Many people who claim to know a lot about football believed that Dean Ashton had the potential and the talent to make it big in football. Many even touted him as the next ‘Alan Shearer’ for England.
Coming through the youth ranks at Crewe Alexandra, he was highly rated then too. He signed for Norwich City in January 2005 which earned him a ticket to play in the Premiership. He became an instant hit with the fans with his goals. He rates his overhead kick against Manchester United as one of the memorable goals he scored. As he helped his team avoid the drop, he scored many more goals and earned a place in the hearts of the Norwich fans. But unfortunately, Norwich faced the drop after an agonizing defeat on the last day of the season at Craven Cottage against Fulham. Norwich got relegated and he was back playing in the Championship. After a poor start next season in the Championship, Norwich were mid-table when West Ham came calling for Ashton with a £7 million bid. It was an offer too good for Norwich to refuse. Ashton got yet another opportunity to return to the Premiership.
So West Ham it was then for Dean Ashton where he grew more as a player. His physical presence and the raw power he generated in his kicks earned a lot of plaudits from many football experts. Many believed it was time for an England call-up for the striker. He was then introduced into the England squad for the friendly against Greece in 2006. But he suffered a broken ankle in training and missed the entire 2006-07 season. He then returned to play 35 games in the next season and earned an England call-up and made his debut in June 2008 under Fabio Capello when he played his only international game against Trinidad and Tobago.
Dean Ashton signed a new five-year contract with the Hammers that season but soon sprained his ankle while training for England when Shaun Wright-Phillips made a heavy tackle on him which reshaped his life then. After that, he could not play competitively again. He made attempts to return to playing football again, which included 41 games of football, one being 45 minutes of play against Trinidad and Tobago, but concerns from doctors that continuing his playing career might risk him losing his mobility for life forced him to surrender to injury and retire from football.
Football managers shared their views on Ashton’s retirement from football.
Gianfranco Zola: “It’s a sad situation. He’s very young, very talented, to see such a player having to retire is bad.I feel for him and I feel for me because I wonder what it would have been like to have a player like him in my squad. He would have made a big difference for us and that is my regret. It was painful for me when I retired when I was 39 – he is only 26. Football is something you do with all your heart and passion so I leave it to you to imagine how he is feeling right now.”
Harry Redknapp: “He was a good player, a terrific striker. He was in the England squad and looked like he was going to play in the forthcoming game when he picked up that injury. I wish him all the best in the future. It’s really sad to see a young guy retire so early. He was a very good player.”
Arsene Wenger: “It is very said that Dean Ashton has to retire because I always thought he was a very intelligent and efficient player. I liked him personally as a player and as a personality on the pitch. It is sad, but in our job you depend on your health. The first quality of a good football player is that they have good health and we forget that many times.”
Some of the quotes which Dean Ashton himself released to the media:
“I was really glad to retire in the end because I had had enough of operations and recovery and waking up every morning not being able to walk to the fridge. It was a weight off my shoulders when I did finish because it was just so difficult being in so much pain.”
“Now I can do normal things. I can walk, cycle, row, although I can’t do anything that involves running. My ankle doesn’t hurt but because it doesn’t move any more, there’s no flexion. I use my knee and foot a lot to compensate.”
“‘It’s pretty simple. I just wish I hadn’t broken my ankle. But I had a good 10 years in the game and the experience I had was fantastic. My best friends who were at the Crewe academy with me but who never quite made it soon remind me, “Hang on, we didn’t make it and we’ve got nine-to-five jobs. You’ve got to be grateful for what you had.”
Nine months after his retirement from football, he was still unsure as to when he would like to return to football in some other form. He had not even visited any football game after his retirement. He, however made plans to return to football at his adopted home club, Norwich City. He recently dropped by at a radio station talkSPORT to be interviewed. We hear that he is now trying to pursue a career in media.
But I do really hope that he returns to football in a coaching role at the club he loves. Ashton acknowledges that he was very lucky to have played at the highest level in football, and that his only regret will be not knowing what his potential could have produced.
I’ll leave you with a tribute to Dean Ashton
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