The streets of southwest London were filled with jubilant AFC Wimbledon fans as Trebor Mahtal, Ricky-Jade Jones and co led their exciting young side into the promised land in May 2027. If you missed how we did it, then catch up here.
I wasn’t alone in being shocked by the achievement and needed a few days to recover, recuperate and plan ahead for what was likely to be one hell of a busy summer. I took Ricky-Jade out for a slap-up meal to thank him for his goalscoring exploits last season, then treated all of our young squad (and old man Jack Butland) out for a fun day at the seaside to celebrate our success.
But a few days later, it was time to get down to business and plan for an unlikely shot at Premier League survival. The Wimbledon board handed me a transfer budget of £31m and increased the weekly wage budget 5-fold to £385k. But it’s important to remember that we will stick rigidly to our aggressive, dirty 4-4-fucking2 formation that’s taken us to the top tier and players that fit that approach.
The summer began with captain Filippo Tripi departing at the end of his contract after five years of service. He was joined by 14 other players as we looked to rebuild. The key areas of recruitment were both centre midfield roles, a left-back, another striker and backup wingers.
Realistically, we had very little chance of survival so I was keen to retain our focus on youth. However, I also knew experience would be crucial and you don’t get much more experience or pure shithousery than 62-time capped Italy midfielder Marco Verratti, who we snapped up on a free transfer! Now 34, his physicals may have dwindled but he still looks solid and should be a great influence in the dressing room.
We moved early to renew the loan of Inter winger Luca Sposato. He was joined by two exciting players in left-back Franjo Rosanda, who’s already played 100 league games for Rijeka, for £1.2m and Colombian striker Juan Guillermo López for £500k from Atlético Nacional. We bolstered the defence by loaning another Colombian in Liverpool’s Camilo Briceno then exciting Portuguese centre-back José Gomes for £2m from Benfica. Then, still needing an additional striker, we turned to an old favourite as record scorer Daniel Jebbison returned for a 5th loan spell. And on deadline day we spent £500k on Rochdale’s Adebayo Okon, who I plan to train as a left-winger.
We also smashed the club’s transfer record (previously £1.1 million) on exciting midfielder José Antonio Ortiz for £3.1m from Málaga. We beat Atlético Madrid to his signature and he became our first player to earn £30,000-a-week!
The squad remains outrageously young, with only Verratti and Butland aged over 25, only 5 players older than 23, and 6 teenagers. But check out the potential in this squad, considering 4-stars = Premier League standard, 3-stars = Championship standard, and 2-stars = League Two standard.
Into the Premier League!
Now things got really daunting up against some of the richest clubs in world football. We’re very much expected to get relegated by some margin, with the media predicting us to finish 20th at 1,000/1 to win the title. While the board expect us to fight bravely against relegation. And that’s fair enough considering we have an annual salary of £10m, which is less than half of Ipswich’s £21m, a third of Bristol City’s £32m, and a seventh of Fulham’s £77m. While the likes of Man City spend £251m, UFC spend £231m and Chelsea spend £226m.
To bring you up to date on the lay of the land in the Premier League, UFC have won the last 2 titles, ending City’s 3 in a row after Liverpool won it in season 1. Bizarrely, Thomas Tuchel just left City to become the new Arsenal manager, having left Chelsea in 2023. Gennaro Gattuso is Chelsea manager, Jurgen Klopp is still at Liverpool, Zinedine Zidane took Tuchel’s job at City, Massimiliano Allegri is at UFC, Mauricio Pochettino is Newcastle boss, Antonio Conte is at Southampton, Xavi is Spurs manager, and Gareth Southgate is West Ham boss.
As a newly promoted side, Anfield probably isn’t the place you want to go on opening day. We started quite well, having a few shots before Liverpool scored their first effort on target then swiftly doubled their lead. But Alphonso Cadogan stepped up to score a stunner, collecting the ball on the right, dribbling through a few players and smashing it into the top corner! Liverpool battered us, eventually scoring 6, but we fought valiantly as fellow academy product Chris Passant and Ricky-Jade Jones also scored on their Premier League debuts and Cadogan bagged his second. It was a heavy beating, but I was really proud of most of the lads. And how many teams score 4 goals at Anfield?!
The first-ever Premier League game at Plough Lane saw Wolves come to town, obviously scored their first shot and went on to 3-1, but at least Passant scored again. But we got our first Premier League point at Leeds as Cadogan’s goal secured a solid 1-1 draw. Our first Premier League lead followed as Passant teed up Cadogan 5 minutes into our second home game against West Ham. That was swiftly followed by our first red card, as Sposato was slightly unfairly sent off on 52 minutes. But we defended heroically to get our first Premier League win!
There was no opportunity to gain momentum as we faced a trip to Man City, whose entire squad earns more than our highest earner and have 15 players earning more than our entire squad combined! But we did well to only lose 3-0 to their first shot on target, a penalty, a late corner and a generally shocking refereeing performance.
Jebbison got his first goal back at the club in a 3-1 loss at home to Newcastle, for whom Kulusevski scored twice. That gave him a taste for it as he bagged a hat-trick in a 3-2 win over Leicester, for which we had Filip Stankovic to thank for making 10 saves, then the only goal in our first-ever Premier League away win at Bristol City. And that, miraculously, had us in 12th-place and above Man UFC after 8 games! However, we went on an 8-game winless streak including a 2-1 defeat at home to UFC before a club-record 7-0 battering at Arsenal and a 2-2 draw at Sheff U with Verratti getting his first goal.
That led into a spell of huge games against teams in the bottom half before Christmas. Stankovic inspired us to a 0-0 at home to Ipswich, which was just a 2nd clean sheet so far, before a narrow defeat at Southampton and Cadogan and Verratti earning a 2-2 draw at Fulham. Then a huge Boxing Day game saw 20th-place Bristol take the lead, but 2 goals in 2 minutes from Passant and a Jebbison volley created by brilliant wing play from Cadogan claimed a massive win. And the increasingly impressive Passant claimed the December player of the month award.
That saw us finish 2027 sitting in 13th place, 5 points clear of the relegation zone. Only Bristol have conceded more than our 47 but we’ve managed to win and draw 6 games. Bristol are also the only team to have more than our 3 red cards and 43 yellow cards, while we have the most fouls in the league (401).
Can we survive in the Premier League?
We made 1 signing in January, bringing in exciting Argentine midfielder Leonel Tus for just £2.5m from Independiente. And he looks like a ready-made Verratti replacement.
2028 got off to a flyer as Passant scored 40 seconds into our New Year’s Day clash with Arsenal. Jebbison doubled the lead then Odegaard got one back and I feared the worst. But a brilliant finish saw Jebbison double his tally just before the break and we held on for revenge and our first win over the “big six.”
We picked up a mass of injuries during a January international break (stupid) and that showed as we got pummelled 7-1 at Man UFC. But one positive was academy product Jimmy Black scoring his first senior goal. A spell of poor form ensued but ended with a Passant brace earning a 2-0 win at Wolves, which moved us on to 31 points in early February. And the progress this team is making was proven by playing really well and nicking a point at home to leaders Liverpool, as youth product wingers Terry McKenzie and Cadogan combined for a late equaliser.
Homegrown McKenzie and Passant both scored in a 2-1 win at managerless Ipswich. That moved us onto 35 points by early March but our form fell apart with 4 consecutive defeats dropping us into a potential relegation battle. Those worries were eased as Sposato’s late goal nicked a 1-0 win at Burnley, who’d rapidly dropped into mid-table. And we managed to avoid relegation with 4 games remaining, despite losing all of our last 5 and 9 of the last 10!
That saw us drop to finish 17th and we were lucky the bottom 3 were so bad. We had the worst defence in the league, conceding 86 goals, and the worst discipline with 81 bookings, 5 red cards and 754 fouls. So it’s clear to see the dirty Crazy Gang mentality was alive and kicking in the Premier League! Interestingly, Cadogan made the most tackles in the league (140) and Anders Frandsen Kroll made the most clearances (447).
Premier League survival represents a massive achievement for AFC Wimbledon. We were overwhelming favourites to go down and just about managed to do enough to stay up. Our key player was Stankovic, who made the most saves in the Premier League as we struggled to handle Premier League attacks.
Jebbison led the way with 12 goals in 30 appearances, followed by Passant’s 11 in 34 and Cadogan’s 7 in 34. Worryingly, Cadogan was our top assister with 5, followed by Ortiz, Verratti and Passant with 4. While the signing of Verratti was a massive flop, the likes of López and Ortiz have shown glimpses of promise. So here’s clearly plenty of work to do but this season offers a solid foundation to build for the future. But special mention has to go to Cadogan, who continues to progress at sensational speed and is now considered our only Premier League standard player with plenty more improvement to come.
Wimbledon’s bright future
The best thing about this season has been the massive shift in the financial situation at Wimbledon. Each month we spend around £600k on wages and £3m in general but bring in around £9m in TV revenue alone. As a result, our bank balance has shot from £8m at the start of the season to £50m in January, £83m at the end of the season, then £98m after the commercial summary. As a result, we cleared all our outstanding debts at the end of the season.
That situation is further boosted by the really exciting youth talent at the club, not least our own youth academy prospects. We had yet another great youth intake led by exciting striker Jay Irons, who scored 4 and assisted 1 as our youth candidates beat the under 18s 6-1, and wingers Ollie Preece and Andrew Battersby. It also had 6 players with up to 4-star potential and 5 players with 3-star potential.
They join the likes of Cadogan and Passant, who both earned their first England Under-21 call-ups this season, and McKenzie and Botond Deutsch, who were both included in this year’s NxGn list.
How much work will be required to rebuild for season 2 in the Premier League? And can we survive again? Join us next Wednesday to find out!