It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good and the sailors' maxim also applies to the wreckage of a footballer's career. Dean Ashton's long struggle with injury has been a windfall to the medical community, now it could be even more lucrative for the legal profession.
Ashton, a strong and mobile centre-forward who, if he had remained fit, would have been in the running for a World Cup place, confirmed his retirement yesterday, more than three years after suffering an ankle injury on the eve of what was to be his England debut. The 26-year-old made several comeback attempts, one of which was successful enough for him to finally make his international bow, but was never the same player. Having been warned that he risked disability later in life if he did not retire Ashton has given in. It is understood he will undergo another operation next week.
Attention will then turn to the issue of compensation, both for Ashton and his club, West Ham. In normal circumstances the Football Association's insurers would recompense a club for the loss of a player injured on international duty, as Ashton was in August 2006. His value then was claimed to be £7m, the fee West Ham paid Norwich City for him eight months previously. However, the FA's insurers (actually, their previous insurers) will note that Ashton played 32 matches in 2007-08, including one for England, scoring 11 goals, before suffering further injury. They may thus argue other injuries contributed to his retirement.
A similar defence will be used should Ashton sue Shaun Wright-Phillips, or his then-club Chelsea. Wright-Phillips committed the tackle which led to the injury while the pair were training ahead of an England international with Greece.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, yesterday urged Ashton not to sue Wright-Phillips. "I hope it doesn't come to that because nobody would think that Shaun Wright-Phillips was a malicious player at all," said Taylor. "At the moment we've been speaking to his representatives and the situation is about looking to get proper compensation without discussing any player v player action. It's complex."
Soundings from legal experts suggested it would be difficult for Ashton to sue successfully. He would already have some insurance against loss of earnings through injury, so any additional action would centre on proving Wright-Phillips, Chelsea, or England (the FA) were negligent.
Ashton, who signed a new five-year contract last year, is expected to agree a pay-off with the club in the region of £3m, cash West Ham can ill-afford even if they will be grateful for a reduction in their wage bill. Tony Cottee, a predecessor in the Hammers attack, said: "Cynics will point out he will get paid millions of pounds but that doesn't replace the fact he has lost his footballing years and also has to deal mentally with the problems of retiring."
Current Hammers' manager Gianfranco Zola, who was never able to pick Ashton, said, "I feel for him and I feel for me as well as 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. That is my sorrow."
There was sympathy also from Crewe manager Dario Gradi, who gave Ashton his debut at 16 before selling him to Norwich. Gradi said: "The saving grace is that he will have made enough money not to have to work again, but it is a great shame."
Taylor added: "It's extremely sad. He was a great talent, but injury is one of the hazards of the profession."
Broken dreams: Ashton's injuries
Broke left ankle in training before England match with Greece. Missed entire season.
Damaged knee ligaments, again on England duty. Out for six weeks.
Leaves field injured during match at West Brom, his final game. Injures ankle again in training later in the same month.