Zola plans in tatters after Ashton retirement

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West Ham manager Gianfranco Zola admits his struggling side's attacking plans have been left in tatters following Dean Ashton's decision to retire from football because of injury.

Ashton, 26, announced on Friday he would be hanging up his boots after failing in his bid to fully recover from an ankle problem sustained while training with England in August 2006.

That means Zola is now left short up front - especially with Carlton Cole set to be out for at least another month with a knee-ligament injury - and has the wrong kind a selection headache in terms of attacking options for tomorrow's trip to Birmingham.

"I always hoped he would be playing for me since the summer," said the Italian, who now has just one fit out-and-out striker in his squad in Guillermo Franco.

"All our campaign during the summer was conditioned to the fact that we were waiting for him. We left a place for him as we strongly hoped he would be back."

He added: "I feel for him and I feel for me as well as I wonder what it would have been like to have a player like him in my squad, as he would have made a big difference for us. That is my sorrow.

"I would have wanted to see him training with me all of the time but I only had him for one day and that is sad for me."

Zola hailed Ashton as a "skilful and talented" striker who he reckons would have represented England at next summer's World Cup finals in South Africa, had he been fit.

Zola added: "It was painful for me when I retired when I was 39 - he is only 26. To see such a player having to retire is very sad.

"Football is something you do with all your heart and passion so I leave it to you to imagine how he is feeling right now.

"West Ham will miss his talent and goals and the confidence the whole team gets with having players like him in your side. He could get a goal at any time."

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