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Exclusive: Eddie Lewis on swapping Leeds United for Derby County and a ‘unique’ Premier League year



Derby County hold one of those unwanted records that always seems to crop up on a pub quiz. The lowest number of Premier League points recorded in the competition’s history – 11 during the 2007/08 campaign.  

That was the last time Derby tasted top-flight football. It was a campaign to forget, too. They won only once, got beat 29 times and conceded 89 goals on their way to relegation.

For Eddie Lewis, it was a unique challenge joining Derby in the Premier League. He explained to Football League World in an exclusive interview that despite that, it was an opportunity Leeds United couldn’t deny him back in 2007.

“During that time at Leeds we’d gone to the play-off final the year before and were a game away from the Premier League. Then, the following season, things were unravelling a fair amount.”

Leeds were relegated into League One as their financial situation spiralled out of control.

“There were teams that were interested and the manager, Dennis Wise, had blocked a couple of moves,” Lewis revealed. “Eventually Derby came along with an opportunity to get back playing in the Premier League; even then Dennis couldn’t stand in my way.”

Billy Davies had secured Derby promotion the season before through the play-offs, with Stephen Pearson’s goal just after an hour enough to beat West Brom 1-0.

“Derby was a unique challenge because they’d gone up the year before, probably prematurely,” Lewis conceded. “They weren’t Premier League ready. The club was in transition trying to figure out how to survive or, if they didn’t, how they weren’t going to be in big financial trouble – ironically, here we are today talking about a club that has now had real financial troubles.

“It was an interesting time because you had the players’ side of it and then the club itself. I didn’t realise until I got there but they’d decided on the fact that they were going to go back down and weren’t going to spend crazy.

“But there was a bunch of players that were in the squad saying: ‘we are playing for our careers and our contracts here’. In some ways it galvanised some of the group.”

Despite a galvanised group, Derby were unable to string together anything that resembled a good run of form. Their sole win in 38 Premier League games came on September 17th when Kenny Miller’s goal secured a 1-0 win over Newcastle United.

“Any wins we had were well received, but it was tough, I’m not going to lie,” Lewis admitted. “It was a crazy environment and you had an un-unified club, which was never going to work.”

After criticising the lack of investment, Davies lost his job in November and was replaced by Paul Jewell in a bid to salvage something from a season that was only drifting in one direction. There were changes in the boardroom, too, with General Sports and Entertainment purchasing the club in late January.

Despite the changes and Jewell receiving backing in January, Derby remained uncompetitive at a time when the Premier League was thriving.

Manchester United were on their way to a 17th top-flight title, whilst they would play out a Champions League final with Chelsea at the end of the season. English clubs were dominating across the board and Lewis found himself up against some of the world’s best.

“I do remember standing just outside the wall playing Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo was going to hit a free-kick,” Lewis recalled. “Even though I’d seen it a bunch of times on TV, the pace of the free-kick as it ripped past the wall, I thought if it hit someone in the face it would’ve taken their head off. I don’t think people realise how hard he strikes the ball.

“Most of the time, though, the games were tough. We were always dropped off, playing on the counter. I played a lot at left-back that season and anytime there was a good right-winger or someone coming on late, it presented a lot of challenges one-on-one.”

Derby’s relegation was confirmed before April and, as Lewis had realised after arriving, the scenario the club had played out pre-season became a reality.

Lewis’ time with the Rams was short-lived and he was on the move little over 12 months after arriving at Pride Park. In August 2008, he joined LA Galaxy.

“Paul Jewell had come in and purchased a bunch of players,” Lewis explained. “The club wasn’t in financial trouble, but they were dramatically trying to reduce the wage bill. They really just started at the top of the list from a wage perspective, just moving their way down and trying to figure out which players they could shift.

“I liked the UK and I was desperate to stay as long as I could. At the same time, there was still quite a big financial difference in the MLS versus the UK. Truth be told, I wasn’t really willing to compromise any of those differences.

“It took a bit of negotiation, but at some point Derby said they were willing to pay up if you want to go home to LA. It took a little bit of time, but the chance to go back home and play in-front of family and friends was also a great opportunity.”

Despite never making it back to the Premier League after relegation in 2008, Derby have been on quite the journey since, stabilising themselves and pushing for promotion time after time.

Yet, as we approach 2022, the Rams are in the hands of the administrators and rooted to the foot of the Championship table following a 21-point deduction. Wayne Rooney’s side, barring a miracle, are heading for League One as they wait on further takeover developments.

Lewis, now 47, was involved at Leeds when they were in similar circumstances.

“People look at clubs as teams, but they are organisations,” Lewis said as he touched on Derby’s current situation. “A lot of what is happening upstairs can filter its way down onto the pitch. It’s not necessarily just down to the manager and the players.

“They are an example of whilst you need the right players and a good leader in the manager, you need the support of the club, the board, the directors. You need to know that they have your back or that you have the financial backing accomplish your goals. At the end of the day, that is what drives these things.

“When these clubs are unsuccessful, it’s typically not just a personnel problem. It’s something else that’s going on at the club that’s bringing the organisation down.

“Hopefully Derby can get the financial part turned around. They are going to need better leadership at the top of the organisation to get back on track and into the Premier League.”

The Premier League is a million miles away right now, but there’s no denying there’s a score to settle in the top-flight when Derby eventually get their chance again.

Alfie is a journalist based in Yorkshire with years of experience covering the EFL. A current focus on Huddersfield Town and their fortunes back in the Championship, but out and about at as many games as possible. Covered Leeds United during their promotion-winning season in 2019/20.

ScoopDragon Football News Network

Article title: Exclusive: Eddie Lewis on swapping Leeds United for Derby County and a ‘unique’ Premier League year

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