James Chester has proved to be a very smart signing by Michael O’Neill, with the experienced defender having become a reliable presence at the heart of their defence since his permanent move in the summer.
The 32-year-old arrived at the Bet365 Stadium initially on loan in January 2020 and played a pivotal role in O’Neill helping guide the Potters to safety in the Championship. On his permanent arrival in the summer on a one-year deal, the Stoke boss hailed the defender’s qualities and suggested it was no surprise that they had picked up 24 points in the 13 games he started last term in the league.
Chester has had a few muscle injury issues during the campaign so far, which have kept him out of action for a couple of weeks and seen him miss a few of their Championship matches. However, the 32-year-old has been a consistent starter when he has been fully fit, making 23 appearances in the Championship so far this campaign.
The defender has shown his versatility of being able to play in both a back four and a back three, and he has been a strong performer helping the Potters rack up nine clean sheets in the Championship. Chester has been averaging 1.5 tackles, 1.3 interceptions and 4.1 clearances per game in the league (Sofascore).
Those stats show that he still has plenty to offer for the Potters and O’Neill will need to way up whether he could replace his quality in the current transfer market were he to be allowed to leave the club in the summer. There would likely be a number of suitors both at home and abroad were Chester to become available on a free transfer.
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The main issues will be whether Chester still feels he has that desire and hunger to continue to play a part for the Potters in another long and gruelling Championship campaign next term.
While Stoke will also need to consider whether they believe he will be able to continue to stay injury-free for large parts of a season as he ages further.
If Stoke remain in the Championship, which looks highly likely with it being a tough ask for them to reach the play-offs from their current position, then you feel keeping Chester for another year would be a smart move.
The 32-year-old might want one more crack at getting the Potters up and he will only continue to be a major benefit for the club’s other young centre-back talent.
It will be intriguing to see what both club and player decide to do in the summer, with his future in the balance at the moment.