AFC Wimbledon defied all the odds to survive relatively comfortably in their first-ever season in the Premier League. However, now things were about to get much more difficult, especially considering a dire conclusion to the 2027/28 campaign.
A frugal approach had seen Trebor Mahtal transform the club’s financial situation. And that apparently appealed to various national FAs as England and France offered me jobs after poor showings at EURO 2028, which was won by Spain. But I politely declined.
The summer saw our oldest 2 players depart as Marco Verratti joined Bahia and Jack Butland retired, while our Championship hero Ricky-Jade Jones left the club at the end of his contract. And a further 14 players followed them out of the door at Plough Lane. The good news was we had £49m available to replace them with better players.
Bizarrely, our 2 best strikers were also considered our best midfielders, so a midfielder was a key priority along with new full-backs, a right-winger and a better centre-back. We also needed backup wingers and strikers and a backup goalkeeper.
We addressed 2 of those requirements with deals for Colombian centre-back Stiven Monsalve, for £1.5m from Junior FC, and right-back Han Chang-Hoon, who was listed on this year’s NxGn but available on a free! A left-back proved a little trickier but we eventually signed George Visscher for £4.5m rising to £9.5m from Sparta Rotterdam.
However, early in the window, the board threw their toys out of the pram regarding a club culture item to “sign players based in England” and started blocking bids I made for foreign-based players! That restricted us massively as players in England are stupidly expensive, so I attempted to trick the board into thinking we were doing it by signing terrible backups on free transfers like 35-year-old Connor Ripley. But we did sign a few decent English-based players in Derby’s rapid winger Alexander Hutchinson, Liverpool striker Jake Hatton and Brighton midfielder Zain Stow. Then on deadline day we loaned in Man City’s 6’5″ midfielder Lucas Laurino for a bit of backup.
The squad is even younger than it was last season, but I think it’s slightly stronger as some of our prospects improve. Our best player is Alphonso Cadogan, who’s one of 3 players with 4-star potential (Premier League standard), while 4 players have 3.5-star ability (leading Championship). However, we have 17 players with at least 4.5-star potential, so if they can meet it we’ll be very nicely positioned.
I’ve made one slight tactical tweak, moving Chris Passant’s striker role from a poacher to his preferred deep-lying forward. And hopefully that will offer improved link-up between the midfield and the attack.
Another season of struggle?
Unsurprisingly, the media still think we have no chance, predicting us to come last and giving us 2000/1 odds for the title. We still spend by far the least in the league, with a wage bill of £18m compared to 19th-highest Nottm Forest’s £26m and biggest-spenders Man City’s £235m! Everton spent the most money with £197m of new signings, while Liverpool spent £95m on Youssoufa Moukouko. But our 13 signings was the most in the league for an outlay of just £12m.
The 2028/29 campaign began at home to West Ham and, just like last year, it was a goalfest in which one of our new signings had a dreamy debut! West Ham, obviously, scored with their first shot. But two homegrown products combined as new captain Passant teed up Cadogan, only for West Ham to go ahead with their second attack just before half-time. But a stern half-time team-talk worked wonders as Hutchinson won a penalty that Passant missed then created an equaliser for Juan Guillermo López. The winger then took control by smashing a 20-minute debut hat-trick to claim a big 5-3 win!
We came from behind again on our first away day. Burnley of course scored with their first shot in the first minute. But we bounced back with a Passant penalty, which ended his 15-hour goal drought, and Cadogan for a 2-1 win. And Passant was at it again from the penalty spot to seal a 1-0 win over Brighton that sent AFC Wimbledon top of the Premier League for the first time!
The winning start ended with a 4-3 loss at Forest as Visscher picked up his first red card. That began a run of 4 games without a win before Cadogan nicked a 1-0 at Chelsea! Then Laurino’s first goal and a Passant injury-time strike nicked a point at Villa before the midfielder scored again in a 2-0 home win over Everton. We then suffered 4 defeats in the next games, with the outlier being a 2-0 win at Leeds thanks to López and a Laurino penalty.
That took us halfway to the magical 40-point milestone ahead of a really tricky December. That began with Luca Stanga’s 1st goal for the club after 198 appearances nicking a point at struggling moneybags Newcastle then a loss at Spurs. Then a brilliant moment for the club saw a brace from 17-year-old academy product striker Jimmy Black seal a fairly undeserved 2-1 win over Sheffield United.
However, our season took a massive hit as Filip Stankovic broke his leg in training in mid-December, which ruled him out for the rest of the season. That saw 18-year-old academy product Enoch Kyere step up for his first-ever league games at home to Man City and Man UFC! And unsurprisingly we lost both but did well to restrict both to 2-0s. But the youngster kept his first clean sheet in a 2-0 win at home to Villa before a 5-0 thumping at leaders Liverpool.
That took us into 2029 sitting pretty in mid-table with 28 points from 21 games. We’re 14 points clear of relegation so, not to tempt fate, we’re looking pretty good to stay up again. We lead the way on yellow cards with 45 and have by far the most fouls with 422, to which the nearest is Brighton’s 327. Elsewhere, Lukaku leads the way with 27 goals in 21 games!
A significant stutter in form
The board’s demand for English-based players continued into 2028, so I focused on signing talented youngsters. More arrived as we spent £5m on 18-year-old Man UFC midfielder Sofus Horskjaer and Coventry striker Sébastian Gassama, who has 19 aggression.
The new year began in feisty style as midfielder José Antonio Ortiz was sent off 11 minutes into a clash at Arsenal, which we somehow only lost 2-1. That began a nightmare January in which we also lost to Wolves, Man UFC (with 7 bookings and a red card!) and Liverpool. But on the positive side, Stanga became AFC Wimbledon’s all-time record league appearances holder, surpassing Barry Fuller’s 205.
The poor form continued into February with a 4-1 loss at West Ham, 5-0 at Man City. Things picked up a little in March as Kyere played an 8.2 with 8 saves to secure a 0-0 at Sheff U then a 1-1 draw at home to 4th-place Spurs, who’d signed 36-year-old Mo Salah, and 1-1 at Norwich. That meant we’d one 1 of our last 11 and 3 of our last 16 going back to early December, but still sat firmly in mid-table.
But we finally got back to winning ways as Hutchinson and López secured a 2-0 win over Newcastle, while another great Kyere performance led to him coming 2nd in the March young player of the month. López, who’d scored 2 in his last 9 games, was suddenly inspired as he bagged a hat-trick to down Leeds 3-2 to take us to past last season’s points total and onto 40 points with 5 games remaining.
We lost a few more games but ended the season on a high as academy product Botond Deutsch’s 93rd-minute strike secured a 3-2 win at Southampton. That saw us climb 2 places to a 13th-place finish, meaning the highest finish in club history for an 8th-successive season. We scored 3 more than last season but, importantly, conceded a huge 24 fewer, even though we had an 18-year-old League 2 standard player in goal for 22 games! We also topped the discipline chart with 80 bookings and 4 red cards and a league-high 716 fouls.
This was yet another season of improvement and overachievement, and finishing mid-table with a load of kids is seriously impressive! López led the way with 13 goals, followed by Laurino’s 7 in 35 and Passant’s 6 in 37, so that’s an area we definitely we need to improve. Hutchinson topped our assist chart with 8, followed by Passant’s 7 and Laurino’s 6. While only Laurino averaged over a 7.00.
The amount of potential at the club is really exciting, we just need to see some of these youngsters begin to fulfill it a bit quicker. We also had another good youth intake containing 3 “elite talents” in goalkeeper Scott Khouri, right-back Nathan Sedgwick and winger Graham Christie. They joined Kyere, who was named 43 on NxGn 2029.
Financially, the club is also in fantastic shape, finishing the season with a balance of £142 million and a wage budget of £1.1m, of which wer’re spending just £420k.
So can we reinvest some of that money to strengthen the team heading into 2029/30? Join us next Wednesday to find out!