No light at the end of the tunnel for Mr September

FOR THOSE of us lucky enough to have the West Ham Official Calendar for 2009 – and I count myself among those – this month you would have been staring at the unmistakeable stocky torso of Dean Ashton. It is fitting that he is the face of September as it w

FOR THOSE of us lucky enough to have the West Ham Official Calendar for 2009 - and I count myself among those - this month you would have been staring at the unmistakeable stocky torso of Dean Ashton.

It is fitting that he is the face of September as it was last September when he last wore claret and blue in anger, as West Ham were beaten 3-2 by West Brom at the Hawthorns.

A lot has happened since that day. Gianfranco Zola has established himself as manager at Upton Park, the likes of Matty Etherington, Craig Bellamy, Lee Bowyer, James Collins and Lucas Neill have all left for pastures new, while German misfit Savio has arrived and left.

In all that time, though, Ashton has rem-ained on the sidelines, never having played a competitive match under the Italian and a possible return date, if there is ever going to be one, is still a distant pipe dream.


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So is Ashton's involvement at the club. The former Norwich City striker, who cost the Hammers a then club record �7.25million to move from East Anglia in January 2006, does not train with the rest of the West Ham squad, but instead continues his rehabilitation with former Hammers physio John Green in private.

With money tight at Upton Park it seems a strange situation that would see such an expensive striker away from the club for so long, and it seems that Zola is slowly becoming increasingly concerned about the future of the England centre forward, who is still only 25 years old.

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"The problem he had was quite serious, it was more serious than anybody thought," explained Zola of the striker, who injured his ankle in training just days after the Italian had taken the reins at Upton Park.

"It has been one year and obviously I am getting concerned about it. I can't say 'I'll give you three months', I can't force his progress along. But I do respect his willingness to come back and I am going to be supportive of him, not the one who is pushing him."

Those sorts of sentiments are not surprising from someone like Zola, who has never had Ashton in his squad to consider, but it is the cash-strapped club owners who must be wondering why they are paying such a huge salary to a player who has not played for over a year and who shows no signs of returning.

For Zola, he just wants to see what the striker can do: "He is one of the players that I have had a lot of hopes for," he said. "I have been waiting one year and I have not had him.

"According to everyone, including myself, he was one of the best players of the team. I am very sorry for the boy and I imagine what he is going through and that he is suffering a lot. All my thoughts are with him.

"I wish that he will find his way forward as soon as possible."

All West Ham fans must be wishing that, but for a player who has managed just 56 appearances in three years and nine months at the club, time may well be running out.

There was yet another story at the weekend suggesting that Ashton was destined for retirement in the near future.

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