An 8th-successive highest finish in AFC Wimbledon history saw the club looking in really good shape to prepare for a 3rd year in the Premier League. And manager Trebor Mahtal believed much change was needed if he was to take the club forwards.
The summer of 2029 began with several huge bids. Right-winger Alexander Hutchinson moved to Forest for a new club-record £10.25m then right-back and record appearances holder Luca Stanga went to Villa for £10m. Then striker Sébastien Gassama smashed the transfer record again moving to Istanbul Basaksehir for £11.75m.
We replaced Hutchinson with former wonderkid Angelo, who was transfer-listed for just £1.5m at Villa and is still only 24. We also renewed the loan deal for Lucas Laurino, who was easily our best player last season, from Man City. And we initially replaced Stanga with promising Turkish right-back Cengiz Haskan for £3.5m from Trabzonspor. We still only had one left-winger, so I took a bit of a gamble on another more experienced player in Mexican Diego Laínez on a free from Napoli. Then a right-back I’d been tracking for years, only to be quoted £20m by his agent, became available for just £5m, so we snapped up Partizan’s Miroslav Avramovic, who instantly becomes our best player.
After the debacle of last season’s goalkeeping situation, I decided a better keeper was a priority. We eventually snapped up 21-year-old Andrés Araújo for £3.5m from Defensor Sporting. We snapped up two more exciting attackers in striker Enrique Borasi for £3.5m from Liverpool and 18-year-old Valentin Schumann-Blaschke for £1.2m from Hamburg, who I’ll retrain as a left-winger. We also brought in two promising Italian defenders in centre-back Giovanni Mazzoleni for £4m from Salernitana and full-back Filippo Carlotti, who comes in on loan from Inter, has the highest potential at the club and joins permanently for £10m next summer.
Not done there, we added two more exciting 18-year-olds in midfielder Lukás Habart for £4.9m from Mladá Boleslav and another Colombian striker Mauricio Estrada, who I might retrain as a right-winger, for just £1.4m from Junior FC. In total, we signed 9 players for £20.5m and sold 7 for £32m.
The summer also saw youth product Alphonso Cadogan make his debut for Jamaica then score twice in his 2nd cap. While Juan Guillermo López made his Colombia debut and Laurino his Argentina debut.
The squad remains very youthful, with Lainez our oldest player at 29 followed by Filip Stankovic (27) and Angelo (24). We have 17 first-team players with at least 4.5-star potential (4-star=good PL standard) and 26 at the club in total, and I think we’ve definitely strengthened the squad across the board.
Season 3 in the Premier League
Despite my optimism, the media still didn’t fancy us. We were predicted to finish 19th at 2000/1 to win the title alongside Forest and Ipswich. While Everton, bizarrely, were 11/4 favourites to win the league! (I’m presuming that was a glitch in the season preview). We also don’t have the lowest wage spend in the Premier League, as our £37.9m per annum is marginally higher than Ipswich’s £37.86m. But that’s still around a 10th of Man UFC’s spend.
We didn’t have an easy start, welcoming Arsenal and new manager Zinedine Zidane, against whom I’d not won in 5 attempts, to Plough Lane, after they sacked Tuchel in the summer. We played fairly well but came up against a clinical side that put us to the sword to beat us 4-2. But we nicked a 0-0 at West Ham and a 1-1 at Everton thanks to a Chris Passant equaliser, then kickstarted our season with a dominant 4-0 win over Ipswich, in which Angelo and Borasi both got their first Wimbledon goals.
A tricky start continued with defeats to Spurs and big-spending Chelsea, in which we lost Angelo to a broken ankle. But a Passant double and fellow academy product Cadogan led us to a 3-0 win over Forest and Passant was at it again with the only goal to down West Brom 1-0. December started with 3 draws at home to Villa and Southampton and an impressive 1-1 at Newcastle, then unsurprisingly lost 1-0 at Man UFC and at home to Liverpool. But we finally got a 1st win in 7 games, beating Bournemouth 2-0 on Boxing Day led by Estrada’s first goal for the club.
Despite that, just before Christmas, 11th-place Man UFC invited me for an interview then, despite having never won any silverware, offered me the job! But I wasn’t interested despite the riches available.
Our form so far this season hasn’t been great, with 20 points in 19 games. But luckily, there are some really bad teams in the league – including Bournemouth on 3 points and Ipswich on 7 – so we find ourselves in 13th place heading into 2030. And we’re 7 points clear of the relegation zone.
Looking to avoid a relegation battle
The new year began with a dire 0-0 at Norwich before goals galore as we improved to thump Sheff U 5-2 in a really exciting game. López got things started and Angelo scored on his return from injury before Estrada bagged a brace either side of a Laínez strike. A run of easier games followed but we didn’t take full advantage as López nicked us a point at Forest and at home to Wolves before another awful 0-0 at Bournemouth. But we continued a 7-game unbeaten streak with Laurino and Passant strikes downing West Ham 2-0.
A trickier run followed, which included defeats to Arsenal and Man UFC, but we somehow got our first-ever win over Liverpool using a new defensive version of our 4-4-fucking2 approach. Homegrown heroes Cadogan and Passant scored our only shots on target and an inspired Araújo performance with 15 saves earned the ultimate smash-and-grab success. And that gave us the confidence to beat Newcastle 3-1 with George Visscher and VSB getting their first league goals alongside a Laínez strike.
That made us virtually safe, 17 points above the drop zone with 8 games remaining. That improved with an impressive 3-1 win over Leicester led by a López double, which ended his 11-hour goal drought, then a 3-0 win at struggling West Brom. We lost 3 in a row before the Colombian striker bagged a hat-trick at Ipswich, who were bottom with just 7 points after 35 games.
The biggest game of our season saw us entertain 11th-place Everton, who had a game in hand, in our penultimate home game. The boys stepped up under pressure as Laurino scored an 11th-minute penalty before Visscher headed home his 3rd in 8 games to seal a huge 2-0 win. And that gave us the confidence to go and beat Spurs 2-0 on the final day with a Passant brace.
Ending the season with 3 straight wins lifted us to an impressive 11th-place finish, which meant a 9th highest finish in club history in a row. We finished the campaign with 52 points and, for the first time in the Premier League, a positive goal difference after scoring 55 and conceding 46 – which was 8 more scored and 18 fewer conceded than last season. Our disciplinary record also improved, with only the 6th-most bookings (65) and only 1 red card, but only a record-breaking poor Ipswich side made more than our 628 fouls.
Our best player this season was probably Araújo, who made the most saves in the Premier League (196), had double the xG Prevented of any keeper in the league (16.87), kept 15 league clean sheets and had an average rating of 7.23.
Pushing him close was López, who was our top scorer with 16 goals plus 8 assists in 38 games and won fans’ player and young player of the season. Even more impressively, he also won English Players’ Young Player of the Year, becoming the first Wimbledon player ever to win the award. While Passant scored 15 and got 6 assists in 37 games. Behind them no-one scored more than 5, but Laurino, Cadogan and Laínez also got 8 assists.
We had another good youth intake, which may be our best yet. It produced brilliantly-named, 5-star potential winger Russell Redhead and striker John Williams, along with 4 players with 4-star potential.
We’re looking in really good shape with plenty of promising young players coming through the ranks and the club in a very strong financial position, finishing the campaign with £192m in the bank.
Can AFC Wimbledon push into the top-half of the Premier League in their 4th season in the top-tier? Join us next Wednesday to find out!