Hatters coach Idiakez surprised he ever got the chance to become a Rams star
Hatters first team coach Inigo Idiakez heads back to a place full of happy memories this afternoon, when he returns to former side Derby County, although revealed he was surprised the move ever came about in the first place.
The 45-year-old joined the Rams back in 2004, signed by George Burley on a free transfer and enjoyed a stellar first season at Pride Park, helping his side reach the Championship play-offs.
He was to become a big favourite with the fans, so much so that he won the supporters player of the year award in his debut campaign.
However, having played all his career in Spain up until the move to England, Idiakez admitted he thought he had blown his chance with County when the opportunity to sign came around.
On how it came about, he said: “It was a phone-call to my brother, my brother phoned me and said ‘Derby County, they want you to go there and do a trial, it’s just a trial to see if you are fit and they want to sign you.’
“I said okay, I check out the history about Derby County and I went there, I played a game and I did really, really bad in the trial.
“After the game, they were wanting me to sign the contract still and I thought, ‘I did really bad, why do they want me to sign?’
“I have to go back to Spain, I had another year with Real Vallecano, so I wanted to go, I had a feeling that it was the right club for me.
“George Burley was the manager there, Simon Hunt was the one who watched me play, so he was the main man who spoke with me about everything and then after that, everyone knows the story about the first year.
“The first three games I scored two goals, I couldn’t speak any English at all, but everything was right as on the pitch.
“I felt really, really good with my team-mates, with the club, the fans and everyone.
"It was a bit weird to be honest when you go and do a trial, you have to do good if not they’re going to sign you, but this time I did really bad, I have to be honest with that and they wanted to sign me.
Burley's hunch was to pay off massively, as Idiakez went on to score 11 goals in his first season, including netting in the 1-1 draw with Luton in December 2005, a strike he doesn't remember, although it wasn’t quite enough to see Derby reach the Premier League, losing out to Preston in the play-offs.
He netted the same amount the following campaign, also picking up 24 bookings over the course of his two years, meaning when he eventually left the club in August 2006 for Southampton, he finished with 22 goals from 96 games, but it was the first season that stuck in his mind the most.
Idiakez continued: “It was as a team to be honest, I scored a lot of goals from free kicks and we scored a lot from corners as well.
“We hit the crossbar 11 times, but the first year it was incredible.
“We had an incredible team, playing really, really good football, different football as that time it was normally a 4-4-2, we play 4-3-3 sometimes and we outplayed teams quite easily.
“We had the striker who scored goals, the defenders to runs, the midfielders to play, but the centre back was Michael Johnson who was strong and aggressive and Tom Huddlestone, who was immense.
“I played with two really good young players and one was Tom Huddlestone and another one was Xabi Alonso, so I can compare them both at the same level at that time when they were 18-years-old.
“The first year was incredible, we went to the play-offs, but we lost against Preston and I got injured.
"It was a real family for me, I have a fantastic relationship with the fans and everyone there.
"I remember every corner, every free-kick, every time I had to take something, they were singing my name, so I wish them all the best but we’re going to try and win there.”
Idiakez was to return to Pride Park in July 2016 as first team coach to Nigel Pearson, but found his second spell in no way matched his first.
He said: “As first team coach it didn’t really work to be honest, we were there for a couple of months and it was a bit disappointing but it’s a different club now.
“The structure and the training ground and the money there, crazy things they’re doing there.
“It’s a Premier League club, structure and everything, normally every year they’re close to the play-offs, but they don’t go to the Premier League.
"So they keep spending money, spending money and they’re not going up, so I love the club, when I was there, and I wish them all the best.
“I prefer my times as a player than my time as a coach, I preferred the family of Derby County, but more than football now, at that time it was really great for my family and me.”
Apart from Huddlestone, who is expected to miss the game through injury, Idiakez expects to see the odd familiar face from his time at the club, saying: “Janet, who was the secretary at the time and is still there.
"From the board, no-one is there, and the kit man is there, that's it
"It was more like three or four people running the club at the time and now it's a massive club.”
This afternoon Idiakez is focused on his new role, as an important member of Town's backroom staff, and helping Luton chief Graeme Jones to try and mastermind a victory that could see Luton climb to 13th ahead of the international break.
He added: “Now I’m here, we’re working really hard, we're doing things good with Graeme and the new staff.
"The players have trained really well and we want success, we want to do things right, we were unlucky the other day (against Millwall) and definitely we’re going to Derby to win the match.
“We have to be clever, Graeme is good at talking with the players about how we can approach the game.
“The players are ready, we are ready, we know what we want to do and we have a plan and we try to do it."