Dean Ashton

England striker Dean Ashton had been earmarked for great things since bursting on to the scene at Crewe Alexandra but an ankle injury suffered in August 2006 blighted his progress and he was forced to retire in December 2009.

At Gresty Road, under the watchful eye of legendary manager Dario Gradi, the powerful striker made his first-team debut at Gillingham a month short of his 17th birthday.

Ashton signed his first professional contract in February 2001, the same month he opened his senior goalscoring account in a 4-2 First Division victory over Burnley. Although Crewe would be relegated in 2001/02, Ashton's goals helped the Railwaymen get back on track by being promoted as runners-up the following season.

Back in what would become the Championship in 2003/04, Ashton netted 20 goals in all competitions. His form earned the striker a call-up to the England Under-21 squad in February 2004, making a goalscoring debut alongside future West Ham United team-mate Carlton Cole in the 3-2 win over the Netherlands at Hull City's KC Stadium.

Ashton continued his rich goalscoring form at the start of the 2004/05 season, scoring 20 goals by New Year's Day and prompting Norwich City to spend £3m in making the Swindon-born frontman their record signing.

At Carrow Road, Ashton continued where had left off in Cheshire, scoring seven Barclays Premier League goals in 16 matches, but they were not enough to save the Canaries from relegation.

Into 2005/06 and Ashton plundered another eleven goals before the turn of the year, tempting West Ham into spending a then-club record £7.25m to bring him to the Boleyn Ground on 22 January 2006. The striker was paraded in front of the home supporters before the home win over Fulham the following evening before making his Hammers debut as a substitute in the memorable 3-2 win over Arsenal at Highbury on 1 February.

Ashton made his mark in claret and blue almost immediately, scoring in three consecutive Barclays Premier League matches before notching a brace in the FA Cup sixth-round victory at Manchester City. Ashton would score again in the final, while also forcing Liverpool's Jamie Carragher into scoring an own-goal, but his efforts would be in vain as the Reds snatched victory on penalties following a thrilling 3-3 draw.

The striker's form caught the eye of new England head coach Steve McClaren, who named Ashton in the full squad for the first time for the friendly international against Greece at Old Trafford in August 2006. However, disaster struck when he broke his ankle in training. The injury would rule him out of the entire 2006/07 season.

Ashton worked his way back and returned to first-team action with West Ham in August 2007, scoring the winner in a 2-1 friendly win over AS Roma at the Boleyn Ground. Three goals in the season's opening six matches appeared to suggest his injury problems were over, only for a knee ligament injury to deny him another chance to make his full England debut after he was named in McClaren's squad for the 2008 UEFA European Championship qualifiers against Estonia and Russia.

After battling back to fitness a second time Ashton scored five goals in West Ham's final eight matches of the 2007/08 season, including a fine overhead kick at Manchester United, as the Hammers finished tenth. That form was finally rewarded with his first England cap, earned in the 3-0 friendly win in Trinidad and Tobago on 1 June 2008.

After signing a new five-year contract, Ashton was in red hot pre-season form in the summer of 2008, smashing a hat-trick at Ipswich Town and three goals in two matches during the club's tour of North America.

Ashton appeared to be back to his best at the start of the 2008/09 campaign, netting twice in the first ten minutes of the opening day victory over Wigan Athletic, only for his old ankle problems to resurface during Gianfranco Zola's first training session on 15 September. After a season of hard work and rehabilitation, however, Ashton was hoping to get ready to return to full training early in the 2009/10 season.

However, the ankle problem never went away and on 11 December 2009, the club confirmed that he had been forced to admit defeat in his battle to play on.