Dean Ashton was a goalscoring extraordinaire. He had an abundance of talent, but had his career tactlessly stolen from him.
In 2006, Ashton had reached the zenith of his playing career. Not only had he scored two crucial goals against Manchester City to propel West Ham into the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but he also consolidated his growing reputation by scoring another in the final against Liverpool.
Meanwhile, England experienced yet another catastrophic disappointment at the World Cup finals in Germany. Another lapse in discipline cost them on the big stage and The Three Lions were searching for another prolific forward to partner Wayne Rooney.
Ashton was being touted as a considerable candidate and Steve McClaren gave him his first international call-up in August 2006. His career was beginning to take shape. He’d established himself at the Boleyn Ground and was preparing to represent his country.
He’d achieved his biggest and wildest dreams, but things suddenly changed for the worse. Ashton was sent home from international duty, after sustaining a broken ankle via a challenge from Shaun Wright-Philips during training.
His progress was halted and Ashton missed the entirety of the 2006/07 campaign, in which West Ham spent fighting relegation. Normal service resumed once the 2007/08 season commenced and Ashton amassed 11 goals in 35 appearances in all competitions.
Yet again he was being linked with another call-up to the England squad by the press. Ashton signed a new five-year deal at West Ham and was enjoying his renaissance after such a harrowing injury set-back.
The most notable highlight from his 2007/08 season was undoubtedly his mind-blowing overhead kick against Manchester United. He was displaying the confidence of an individual with renewed optimism and with a positive attitude towards fear.
In May 2008, Ashton had confirmed his comeback and was once again selected to play for England. Now managed by Fabio Capello, England were aiming to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, after missing out on Euro 2008.
Ashton played out the proudest moment of his career in an international friendly against Trinidad & Tobago on 1 June 2008. It would prove to be his only cap for Three Lions and it also marked the beginning of the end for Dean Ashton.
He started the 2008/09 season in fine fettle until a reoccurring ankle injury deprived him from action once again. Ashton was fighting a losing battle and reluctantly hung up his boots at just 26 years of age.
Dean Ashton was one of the most extensive forwards I’ve witnessed over the past decade. It’s upsetting that we were unable to witness his evolution as a player; because I’m convinced he would’ve been a special forward.
The sheer fact that his career is still spoken of today suggests his talent could’ve taken him to the very top. Not only was he naturally capable of scoring goals by the ton, but he also utilized his intelligence to great effect to enable his teammates to express themselves around him.
Ashton had carefully planned his road to prosperity by emerging from the shadows in League One with Crewe Alexandra to arriving in the Premier League at Norwich City. He achieved a considerable amount in his fleeting career, but the unanswered question will always remain; could he have gone onto become one of the best in his trade?
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