Dean Ashton – the best target man England never had

When Sky Sports’ Goals on Sunday show started last Sunday and they revealed that one of the guests was Dean Ashton, you knew viewers up and down the country would look at him and share sympathy with a player who had to retire from the sport at the age of 26.

Of course the reason for retirement came after failing to recover from a long-term ankle injury. After undergoing several operations, and still not being able to return to full fitness, one is left with no choice but to pack it in. As the injury happened whilst on England duty, during a training session in August 2006 ahead of a friendly, it begs the question just how much England will go on to miss the type of player they have been crying out for.

As one of the fastest improving English strikers, he offered so much more to the striking department then some of the front men in the current squad. His main qualities included his demonstration of how to be a powerful player who combined his strength with clinical finishing. Looking through his goals for the clubs he played for, he could finish expertly with both left and right foot. But his main contribution on the pitch was the way he could change the game in differing ways. He is the most ideal target man because of his height and physical presence, but could bring other players in to the game in a meaningful way; almost like an assist. To do that and score goals frequently is quite impressive.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but there is every chance that had he not been forced to retire, and played consistently at the highest level, then England manager Fabio Capello would have included him in his World Cup squad. With Ashton playing like a complete striker, one who could do the job of a no.9 or no.10; he can be identified as the missing piece of a jigsaw. Unlike playing like the players that are similar to him, namely Peter Crouch and Emile Heskey, he is in a different bracket to them because he played in a very neat way. This is quite uncharacteristic for a man of his build and height.

One person who potentially could have played together with Ashton is a certain Wayne Rooney. Rooney playing in the withdrawn role with Ashton leading the line is a set-up that would have tempted the manager. However, this was not meant to be so the team will try to get the other strikers to play in the intelligent fashion that Ashton could. His last club, West Ham, will also be entitled to say that they will miss the player badly because they signed Ashton on the basis of successful spells at all of his previous clubs.

When speaking on the Goals on Sunday show, Ashton was quick to point out that there are people worse off than he is when it comes down to injuries. In the unforgiving test that is the career of a Premiership footballer, we can easily forget that physical health is the most important thing before talking about how good a player is destined to be. There is no denying that this extremely early retirement is a cruel end to a player who had every chance of representing his country at the World Cup this summer.

Here is a link to show some of Ashton’s best moments:

[youtube P9ki1JTEqV4]