Dean Ashton retires from football

West Ham and England striker Dean Ashton today announced his retirement from professional football.

Ashton has succumbed to a long-term ankle problem which he initially sustained when training with England in August 2006.

The 26-year-old underwent several operations in a bid to overcome the problem but concerns for his mobility later in life prompted today's decision.

West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury told the club's official website: "This is a sad day and our thoughts are with Dean.

"I would like to place on record our thanks to him for all his efforts and wish him the very best. I would also like to thank the fans for their patience and understanding during what has been a difficult time."

Ashton made his name at Crewe before joining Norwich in January 2005.

He netted 18 goals in 46 appearances for the Canaries, earning him a then club-record £7.25million move to West Ham.

Ashton made a good first impression, scoring the goals which took the Hammers to the FA Cup final, although he failed to land a place in Sven-Goran Eriksson's 2006 World Cup squad.

He was named in Steve McClaren's first squad, for the game against Greece at Old Trafford, but was injured in a training ground clash with then Chelsea winger Shaun Wright-Phillips.

The striker missed the whole 2006/07 season but returned to make 35 appearances in 2007/08.

He started the 2008/09 season in goalscoring form but broke down again after just four games because of the ankle injury.

Former West Ham striker Tony Cottee told Sky Sports News: "Cynics will point out he signed a five-year contract and will get paid millions and millions of pounds and that might well be the case but that doesn't replace the fact he has lost his footballing years and he also has to deal mentally with the problems of retiring.

"He would probably have been in the World Cup squad.

"We know Carlton Cole and Peter Crouch are options but Ashton is 6ft 2in and had a bit of everything about him.

"Potentially he could have been a very, very good forward for England.

"We will miss his goals at West Ham and we will miss his personality, it's really sad news for West Ham fans."

Crewe manager Dario Gradi, who gave Ashton his professional debut at the age of 16, was not surprised by the announcement.

"We'd all seen it coming for a long time," he told Press Association Sport. "He's been injured for a while and I think that Dean was prepared for it.

"The saving grace for Dean is that he has had a bit of a career and will have made enough money not to have to work again."

Gradi, who managed Ashton as he went on to score 74 goals for Crewe, also feels England will be greatly affected by his retirement.

"It's a shame for Dean but it's a great shame for England," he said. "They are crying out for a big striker and that is what he is.

"Dean has always been a goalscorer. He made his debut at 16 and the good players usually make their debuts around that age. He was a good player and he could have achieved what he wanted."