Derby County bolstered their defensive options with the signing of experienced centre half James Chester.

The 33-year-old has signed a one-year contract with the Rams, becoming the club’s latest summer recruit as Derby prepare for the start of the upcoming 2022/23 Sky Bet League One season.

Here is a little bit more about our newest recruit:

Early Career

Chester joined the Academy at Manchester United at the age of eight, having played for his local grassroots side Winwick Athletic previously. His talents were spotted early and he signed a trainee contract at the age of 16 in 2005.

He played in Manchester United’s Youth Cup and Manchester Senior Cup campaigns as they were beaten by Liverpool and Manchester City respectively. The defender signed his first professional contract in 2007 and regularly trained with Sir Alex Ferguson’s first team squad.

Ironically, the defender made his competitive debut for the Red Devils against Derby County in the Rams’ memorable League Cup journey as he featured in the Semi-Final Second Leg meeting between the sides in January 2009. He replaced Gary Neville in the 67th minute as United went on to reach the League Cup Final.

Three weeks later, Chester had his first real taste of competitive football as he was loaned to League One side Peterborough United who were managed by Darren Ferguson, son of United manager Alex. He spent a month at London Road and played five times, keeping two clean sheets in the process.

He was a regular for the Red Devils’ reserves and at the end of the campaign was nominated for the Reserve Team Player of the Season by then reserve team coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The following season, he joined then Championship side Plymouth Argyle on a three-month loan deal, however, after three games, he was forced to return to his parent club after suffering cartilage damage.

Chester started the 2011/12 campaign on loan at Carlisle United in League One and it was his first consistent run of competitive games. He played 18 times in the league and 24 in total, and even managed four goals.

His form for the Cumbrian side alerted the attention of Hull City, who had tracked the central defender’s form. They bid £300,000 for his services and managed to secure his signature in January 2011.

New Beginnings

Chester made his Hull debut in January 2011 as he kept a clean sheet in their 2-0 home victory over Barnsley. He would score four games into his Tigers career, netting in a 2-2 draw against Leeds United.

He would become a regular in the starting line-up, playing in a back line which consisted of Derby’s interim manager Liam Rosenior. The defender held down a starting spot for the whole of the 2011/12 campaign, playing 45 times and scoring two goals.

He was part of a defence which that season only conceded 44 goals in the league, making it the second-best in the division. Only Reading, who finished as champions, held a better defensive record. His impressive campaign saw him finish runner-up in the Player of the Season award vote.

Under new management following the appointment of Steve Bruce in the summer of 2012, Chester adapted to a new style of play. Now as part of a back three, Bruce led the Tigers to promotion to the Premier League, which would be Chester’s first taste of the top flight.

He played 48 times in all competitions as Hull secured promotion on the final day of the season, pipping Watford to second spot. He was rewarded with a new three-year contract ahead of his maiden Premier League campaign.

Ahead of the 2013/14 campaign, Bruce added familiar faces Tom Huddlestone and Curtis Davies to his ranks, both Davies and Chester would strike up a good partnership as the manager reverted to a back four.

The defender would make his Premier League debut against Chelsea in a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, however, he would soon suffer a hamstring injury which would rule him out for two months.

He returned and went straight back into the squad, and even scored his first Premier League goal against his former club Manchester United. However, it wouldn’t afternoon for Chester who scored an own goal in the same game as his side lost 3-2 to the Red Devils.

It was proving to be a difficult campaign for the Tigers in the league, but they did enjoy some success in the FA Cup. After victories over Middlesbrough, Brighton & Hove Albion and Sunderland, the Tigers booked their place at Wembley for a Semi Final clash against then League One side Sheffield United.

They were given a scare as the Blades took the lead twice, but Hull did go on to win the game 5-3 to set up an FA Cup Final clash against Arsenal in May. And he couldn’t have dreamed of making a better start in the final as he scored the opening goal of the game on four minutes.

The defender diverted Huddlestone’s volley on target and it found a way past Arsenal goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to put Hull ahead. Davies then achieved a personal dream by scoring the Tigers’ second on eight minutes, but the Gunners fought back to win 3-2 in extra time.

Chester’s form at club level hadn’t gone unnoticed on the international stage, though. After excelling in his first season in the Premier League, he earned a call up to the Welsh national squad in the summer and earned his first cap in a friendly fixture against the Netherlands in June 2014.

Hull had retained their Premier League status following a 16th placed finish but they found it difficult in their second season in the top tier. He played 23 times in the league, and 33 times across all competitions, but Bruce’s side would be relegated to the second tier of English football.

That would be the end of his journey with the Tigers as then Premier League side West Bromwich Albion paid £8 million for his services in 2015. With an eye on the summer’s European Championships after Wales had qualified for the competition, Chester knew he needed to be playing at the highest level.

However, the move wouldn’t really work out. He was played out of position and was restricted to just 13 top flight appearances, but he was selected in Chris Coleman’s Wales’ squad for Euro 2016, which was set to take place in France.

International Honours

Having already stamped his mark on the international scene following his debut in the summer of 2014, Chester had made himself a regular in Coleman’s Wales squad. Alongside Ashley Williams and Ben Davies, Chester had formed a formidable partnership.

Wales’ form heading into the competition was patchy, as they lost against the Netherlands, Ukraine and Sweden but once the competition got underway, they certainly made their mark. Chester would play in every single European Championship game as they embarked on an epic adventure to the last four.

They beat Slovakia in their opening group game before suffering a late 2-1 defeat against England. Wales hit back with a convincing 3-0 victory over Russia to top the group and set up a second round clash with Northern Ireland.

Chester once again played 90 minutes as they got the better of their rivals before being drawn against tournament-favourites Belgium in the quarter finals. And, on an unbelievable night for Welsh football, Coleman’s side recorded a stunning 3-1 comeback win to book their place in the semi finals against Portugal.

However, that would prove to be a step too far as goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani ensured it was them which proceeded to the final of the competition. But, take nothing away from the role Chester played in Wales’ journey as the defender shone on one of the biggest stages of all.

The defender continued to serve his country as they challenged for a place at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, but they fell just short in their qualification stage. Chester made his last appearance for Wales in November 2018 and has earned 35 caps to date.

After his move to West Bromwich Albion did not go as planned, Chester made the short journey across the West Midlands and joined Aston Villa, who had just been relegated from the Premier League. He joined for a fee in the region of £9 million following the completion of the European Championships.

The move provided him the opportunity of regular game time, reuniting with his former boss Bruce, and it was a chance to be part of a rebuild at Villa Park. The defender played in all but one league game during the 2016/17 campaign, and even scored against the Rams in a 1-0 victory in February 2017.

The following campaign, Chester was an ever-present as Villa reached the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final. He even enjoyed his best spell in front of goal during the season as he scored in three consecutive fixtures in March 2018.

He scored in a 3-0 success over Sunderland and followed it up with a goal against local rivals Wolves four days later. He then netted against Queens Park Rangers as Villa continued to push for a place back in the Premier League, but they would be beaten in the Play-Off Final by Fulham.

Now into his third season at Villa Park, Chester was keen to ensure he was back playing in the top flight, but the 2018/19 wasn’t going to plan early on as Bruce received his marching orders following a poor run of results. Dean Smith stepped up to manage his boyhood club and looked to revive their fortunes.

And that he certainly did. On a personal level, Chester was enjoying one of his most successful seasons, scoring five goals which included one against his former club Hull City. However, his season would end prematurely as a knee injury ruled him out for the remainder of the campaign as Villa were promoted following a play-off victory over Derby at Wembley Stadium.

Following promotion and heading into the final year of his contract, Chester found himself surplus to requirements as he concluded the season on loan back in the Championship with Stoke City. After making 126 appearances and scoring 12 goals for Villa, he would leave the club at the end of his contract and earn a permanent deal with the Potters.

He played 33 times during the 2020/21 campaign, whilst last season he made 22 appearances before being released this summer. Chester, who is still only 33-years-of-age, has joined Derby on a one-year contract.