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Ashton forced to retire

West Ham United have announced that striker Dean Ashton has been forced to retire from professional football at the age of 26.

• Jon Carter on Ashton's retirement

Ashton had not played a first-team game for 14 months and speculation had mounted in recent weeks that the Hammers would announce that his career had been curtailed.

The striker could never fully recover from an ankle injury suffered at England training in August 2006 and West Ham may now seek compensation in the form of a £7 million insurance claim against the Football Association.

West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury paid tribute to Ashton, who scored 19 goals in 54 games for the Hammers.

"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," Duxbury said. "I would also like to thank the fans for their patience and understanding during what has been a difficult time."

Ashton was a product of the famous Crewe Alexandra youth system, which saw manager Dario Gradi bring through the likes of David Platt, Danny Murphy, Robbie Savage and Neil Lennon.

After playing more then 200 games for the Railwaymen, he became Norwich City's record signing when he joined the Canaries for £3 million in 2005. A string of impressive performances and 17 goals in 44 league appearances earned him a move to West Ham in January 2006 for £7.25 million, where he became a first-team regular.

The ankle break at England training ruled him out for the whole 2006-07 campaign and though he did return, scoring 11 goals in 35 appearances in the 2007-08 season, he broke down in new manager Gianfranco Zola's first training session in September 2008.

England boss Fabio Capello rated Ashton highly and tipped him to make a big impact on the international stage, handing him his Three Lions' debut in a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago last summer.

Zola had persistently refused to write-off Ashton but the striker was forced to admit defeat because of chronic degeneration in the ankle.

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