The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 18 of 25
Hull City currently sit proudly in the play-off places thanks to the boost provided by local hero Nick Barmby taking control. Barmby has managed to stop the Tigers looking toothless in attack, but he will still be relying on consistent performances from his back four to maintain Hull’s promotion chances. John Verrall explains why one member of this defence will be itching to get back to Old Trafford wearing black and amber.
James Chester (Hull City)
Making the grade at Manchester United is arguably the hardest thing for any young professional in England to do. The standards required by England’s most successful football club ensure that only the best will put on the famous red shirt.
For many young players, the dream ends at youth team level. They are told they don’t have the ability to fulfil their dreams and are released there and then. This, in itself, does not make them bad players. Plenty of talented footballers have come through the Red Devils’ youth system without ever playing for Manchester United, yet have still been successful in the game.
James Chester is one of these players. After being sold by United for around £300,000 in 2010, the centre-back moved to Hull in the hope of gaining first-team football. He has since proven that he still is a very capable player.
Chester had enjoyed loan spells at Peterborough, Plymouth and Carlisle before his transfer to Hull City but it wasn’t until the last of these loans spells that he really impressed. At times he looked a little off the pace and at only 5’11” he was hardly the most imposing of defenders. Chester also played very few games for both Posh and Plymouth, he never settled and that showed through his performances on the pitch.
However, the move up north to Carlisle proved his breakthrough. Playing alongside Lubomir Michalik, a player who had been promoted with Leeds United previously and a full international, Chester stood out. He wasn’t overshadowed by a player who was a relatively big name for a League One side at the time, perhaps due to the illustrious names he would have trained alongside at Carrington.
Indeed, Carlisle’s defensive record with Chester was enviable and a major reason for their successful start in the league. As a result, the January transfer window saw him get his permanent move.
The step up from reserve team football to being a regular in the Championship is often a difficult one for inexperienced players. All of a sudden they are chucked in at the deep end, at a level that is famed for its unpredictability. But Chester adapted instantly.
With Nigel Pearson in charge, Hull built their success on the reliability of their back line and alongside Anthony Gerrard, and more recently Jack Hobbs, Chester was integral to this. It was not the defence that was letting them down but the more extravagant strikeforce of Matty Fryatt and Aaron McLean that was misfiring, especially at the KC.
The Warrington-born defender has also shown versatility in his still burgeoning career in English football. He has filled in admirably at full-back for both Carlisle and Hull, a position that some have commented he may even be more suited to given his height.
It is also testament to his ability on the ball that Chester can excel in both positions. Full-backs, in modern football, are generally expected to be able to carry the ball out of defence and be a link to midfield and beyond. Chester is very capable of this. He is not a no-nonsense defender, although not being one to pull out of a tackle, but is particularly able with the ball at his feet.
Chester may have been allowed to leave Manchester United as a junior. Indeed, he may never reach those heights again. Yet, if he carries on impressing at Hull City and his career continues on an upward trajectory, then there is no telling how far he could go. Chester has already proven that he has masses of potential. He is now a key player for the Tigers and, after being sold for such a small price, he may be doing one of the hardest things to do in football. Proving Sir Alex Ferguson wrong.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.