(Image credit: Devon Live)
JR: You signed for Exeter City in 2020. How are you enjoying your time at the club so far and how would you describe a club such as Exeter City?
LP: I am loving my time at Exeter City so far. I have started off really well playing my first nine games at the club which is a good run. I came down to Exeter on trial in late pre-season. Exeter City is a really good club, a great fanbase and there are nice people down this way as well which is always a bonus. As a club, Exeter City bring through some very good young players like Ollie Watkins for example who is now playing in the Premier League for Aston Villa. We currently have five players in our starting eleven who have pretty much played every game and they will probably go on to a higher level maybe with Exeter City in time higher up the football ladder. The players are a great age and are willing to learn. The club does bring through some great players which is always a good sign.
JR: You came through the youth setup and debuted for West Ham United. How do you look back on your time at the club and did you learn anything in particular that stood you in good stead for your career as a professional footballer?
LP: Yes, I learned many things having joined the club at the age of nine and didn’t leave the club until I was 20. It was a good decade coming through at every age group and learning different things by different coaches. That stands you in good stead when you come to a first team environment. I was lucky enough to play in the first team and make my debut in the Europa League against FC Lusitanos from Andorra. I really enjoyed that experience. My debut was at Upton Park which is obviously a great stadium, we had a full house on the day which was amazing. I learned a lot also as a person. West Ham United are a good club to come through at. I am a local lad and I got on well with the lads, and the coaches were brilliant. A lot of the coaches have gone on to fill first team coaching or management roles having shown how good they are.
JR: You played two seasons for Charlton Athletic. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?
LP: I had a mixed bag at Charlton Athletic really. I had a great time when I was playing but it was also probably the lowest point of my career in terms of injuries. I signed for the club and played the first eight games and then I ruptured my hamstring which was a big blow. I was out for quite a while and after that I just kept picking up little things and it would take me longer to get back. With a big injury, I think I rushed the comeback myself and I came back a bit early on a few occasions but when I was playing it was great. We ended up getting promoted from League One to the Championship a couple of seasons ago and I scored my first professional goal for the club at home at The Valley against Plymouth Argyle. I have some really good memories of my time at Charlton Athletic and getting promoted at Wembley was an amazing day.
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JR: You have accrued good experience at different levels, could you say who are among the best players you have played alongside so far in your career?
LP: Yes, I have been fortunate to play with a few good players so far in my career. My best mate Josh Cullen. We played together at West Ham United. He is now at Anderlecht in Belgium having signed for the club in the summer and he is a very good player. I played in a few Europa League and English cup games with Dimitri Payet who now plays for Olympique Marseille in France. He was top draw and probably the best I have ever seen in person. He would even do things in training where he would put a goalkeeper on the floor when he was one on one and he would chip the goalkeeper and do things that I would not even think of doing and he was one of those players that you would just stand back and watch. At West Ham, we had a lot of very good players like the captain Mark Noble who has played at the highest level for such a long time and he trains properly every day, he’s an amazing player.
JR: I can imagine in your position as a defender that you have played against many difficult opponents so far in your career, could you say which opponents have stood out for you in terms of talent and ability?
LP: Yes, the one that sticks in my mind was when we played Juventus in the opening game of the West Ham United new stadium and Paulo Dybala played. I only came on as a substitute for the last ten minutes and I watched the game from the sidelines and I thought oh my god this guy is a joke. He was just so sharp in tight areas but personally going up against a winger I played against Nathan Redmond, when he was at Norwich City and his movement was amazing and it meant that I was having to remain 100 percent sharp for 15 minutes straight and it was draining. I remember thinking like that is the level and I was only 19 years of age at the time. It was a good experience to see a Premier League winger who plays matches like that every week and that was the level I had to get too.
JR: Finally Lewis, could you say who are the coaches and managers who have meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development as a professional football?
LP: Yes, my youth team coach at West Ham United, Steve Potts. he brought me on leaps and bounds and we had him at under 16 and under 18 level, and Mark Phillips who worked alongside him. Steve was a West Ham legend who played about 500 games for the club and he had the respect from us lads straight away in the three years we worked with him and he was also a full back. He could teach us things especially such as positional play , he was brilliant and he gave players a lot of confidence that allowed me to push on as a player. At under 16 level, I was probably a bit under developed in terms of size, strength and speed and within a year of doing a little bit of gym work alongside Steve, I started to up my levels and I completely changed physically as a player. He taught me how to use my pace, when to go forward, when to overlap and when to hand behind. When I started to train with the West Ham first team. I thought Sam Allardyce was a very good manager. He worked with the back four quite closely and taught us about preventing situations and being in the right place at the right time and defending the back post properly because you do not really get taught that at academy level. It is more about being on the ball and trying to play proper football and Sam Allardyce taught the rougher side of the game that I think a lot of us young lads still needed to learn. I always felt that Sam Allardyce was very honest and he would always give his honest opinion all the time, there was no beating around the bush. I think a lot of players respected that and I think that is all you can ask for really. He would tell you your job and if you go out there and do it he would be happy if not you would get told but at least you know where you stand.
James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.