Crazy Gang | Part 12 | The Birth Of “Mahtal-Ball”

AFC Wimbledon enjoyed a 9th-successive best-ever finish in club history as Trebor Mahtal’s side came 11th in the Premier League in 2029/30. The big task now was to push for the top-half while having a tilt at cup competitions, having lost in the first round of both last season.

The club was packed with exciting young talent that I was keen to give another chance. As a result, the summer of 2030 was pretty quiet. But it began with sales of players who weren’t quite up to it, like Angelo, José Antonio Ortiz, Filip Stankovic, Thomas Hugill and Han-Chang Hoon, for a profit of £23m. Homegrown hopefuls Theo Musselwhite and Mike Robertson had only progressed to potential Championship players and moved to Ipswich and Udinese. And two prospect strikers left on deadline day with Jay Irons going to Ipswich for £1m and Jimmy Black inexplicably receiving an £8.5m bid from Nottingham Forest.

We completed the permanent deal for Italy Under 21s captain Filippo Carlotti, who impressed at the end of last season’s loan spell from Inter, for a club-record £10.75m. We also kept the board happy in their demands for England-based signings with backup left-back Eldrick Donaldson for £3m from Portsmouth and a £600k deal for Arsenal midfielder Joao Dias. We also strengthened at centre-back with Gian Guerrero for £4m from Estudiantes then Matías Rodríguez, who was supposed to have 5-star potential, joined for £3m from River Plate on deadline day and immediately went out on loan. And we finished the transfer window with £66m still in the transfer kitty!

I’m in two minds whether to shift homegrown hero Chris Passant back into a midfield role this season as I’m keen to blood some of the exciting young strikers we have at the club. Although young Czech midfielder Lukás Habart has also progressed very nicely over the summer.

We still have by far the lowest wage spend in the Premier League, spending £36.45m per annum compared to the next lowest Fulham’s £52.59m. While Arsenal, Man UFC, Man City and Chelsea are all spending over £200m. And unsurprisingly, the media expect us to go down again, predicting a 19th place finish and putting us at 700/1 to win the league. Strangely, Everton are still favourites for the league at 5/2 and newly-promoted Leeds are predicted to finish 4th. However, our blossoming goalkeeper Andrés Araújo, who’s become the best player at the club ratings-wise over the summer, has become our first player to make the media dream 11.

Bizarrely, elsewhere in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp left Liverpool to join Spurs, who finished 9th last season, 4 days before the start of the season! Liverpool then took Thomas Tuchel from Roma. And speaking of managers brings us onto some truly bizarre moves!

Pep Guardiola is at Everton, having managed Chelsea, Milan, Newcastle and Porto in 9 years. Emre Belozoglu (the former Inter and Newcastle midfielder) is Man UFC boss, Vincent Kompany is at City, Zinedine Zidane is at Arsenal, Andriy Shevchenko is at Arsenal, Frank Lampard is Brighton boss, Benni McCarthy is at Newcastle, Gennaro Gattuso is West Ham boss, and Norwich are managerless after Gareth Southgate resigned to become Ukraine manager. Obviously.

Glorious goalkeeping kicks off the new season

The 2030/31 season began with Aston Villa winning a penalty inside 7 minutes, but Araúíjo came up big to save it. We took inspiration from that as Alphonso Cadogan teed up the opener for last season’s star man Juan Guillermo López, but Villa immediately responded. The hosts went on to batter us, racking up 19 shots and 2.64 xG, but player of the match Araúíjo kept them at bay for a solid point.

Our first home game against Brighton began well as Cadogan whipped in a great cross for López to loop a superb header into the far top corner. López was at it again 6 minutes later as he latched onto a through-ball from Habart and Araujo was solid in goal, making 6 saves to secure a 2-0 success.

We were cruelly knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties after yet another tough draw away to Spurs in the second round. But our solid league start continued as Habart’s first Wimbledon goal nicked a 1-0 win at Southampton, with Araújo making 9 saves for an 8.5 rating! That put us in a good place to take on Zidane’s Arsenal, who we’d only beaten once in 9 meetings. The trend continued, but we were really unlucky to lose 1-0 to Tomiyasu’s first-half strike before another impressively narrow loss 2-1 at Man City.

But, as the old saying goes, those weren’t games that our season relied on. The ones it did were the likes of bottom side Forest at home, which we won 4-0 thanks to a brilliant hat-trick by López, who scored again in a narrow 2-1 loss at Everton. That had us sitting nicely in 8th place above the likes of Arsenal and Spurs before draws with Wolves and West Ham.

Media honour “Mahtal-ball”

A chance to put that right arrived as Norwich came to town and had Brandon Williams sent off for a shocking tackle on Diego Lainez after 33 seconds! And Lainez made him pay, scoring a stunning volley on 6 minutes then teeing up Cadogan 3 minutes later and Passant’s 1st of the season just after half-time. And that win saw the media laud our distinctive style as “Mahtal-ball.”

The next game marked a proud moment for the club as academy product winger Cadogan became our record appearances holder. He made his 222nd league appearance for AFC Wimbledon at home to Spurs, taking him past the record of Luca Stanga. And we celebrated the milestone with Passant and López scoring two in four minutes to seal a 2-1 comeback win.

Our good form would be tested by a tricky December. The month began with a 1-1 draw with Leicester before unsurprisingly losing 3-0 away to second-place Chelsea and leaders Liverpool. We nicked a draw against Leeds, which took us to 6 games without a win. But a team meeting provided a much-needed morale boost and an impressive 0-0 with a Newcastle side containing the likes of Skriniar, Kessié, Kulusevski, Zakharyan, Jarrod Bowen and Lukaku – largely thanks to Araújo’s 13 saves!

We got back to winning ways on Boxing Day as a López brace was enough to beat struggling Fulham 2-0 despite a Carlotti red card for a horror tackle. And a knackered side backed that up by thumping Wolves 4-1 away with braces by López and Valentin Schumann-Blaschke.

Those two wins saw us finish 2030 sitting 8th in the Premier League. We’re only 4 points behind Man City in the final European place and we’re above Man UFC on goal difference. But a more shocking fact is that Everton are top! López is the second-top scorer with 13 in 19, only behind Chelsea’s outrageously good Higinio Gonzalez, who has 18 in 16. While Avramovic had a league-high 9 bookings. Speaking of which, our 41 bookings is nowhere near Wolves’ 56 and 2 red cards isn’t close to Norwich’s 6.

Our overperformance saw me offered another interview by Man UFC, who sacked Emre in early December after less than a year and whose last 3 permanent managers had served a combined 1 year and 240 days.

Is Europe on the cards for the Crazy Gang?

Admittedly, that’s a very tall order, but there’s no denying we were in the mix to record our first-ever top-half finish in the Premier League. A few sales of backup players like Anders Frandsen Kroll to Olympiacos took the bank balance over the £200m mark for the first time. However, we did make one signing, which looked an inspired piece of business. 19-year-old Uruguayan midfielder Daniel Cortizas cost £1.4m from Defensor Sporting and is already valued at around £30m (although he would go on to suffer 3 injuries that restricted him to 1 league appearance!).

2031 began with a tough test at home to surprise leaders Everton. And that begs the question – how are Everton top? Well, they’ve got Guardiola in charge and they had a tycoon takeover in 2026, since when they’ve been throwing money around on the likes of Ugarte, Calegari and De Ketelaere. But they didn’t look that good before sneaking a 1-0 win in injury-time through Aaron Hickey.

We responded well with a 3-1 win at Norwich thanks to Passant’s early strike then another López double. The same result followed at home to West Ham inspired by academy graduates as Cadogan scored early before a Passant brace. Passant was proving I was right to keep him up front as he bagged a 23-minute second-half hat-trick as we thumped a poor Fulham side 4-0 away. Then back-to-back 0-0s took us to the 40-point mark with 12 games still remaining.

Our good run ended with a 4-2 loss at big-spending Newcastle. But a big response saw López bag a hat-trick to down 11th-place Sheffield United 4-0, which moved us 9 points ahead of them with 10 to go.

Brief FA Cup run

We also had our first FA Cup run in several years, as wins over QPR and Wycombe gave us a chance to reach the quarter-final. We took a deserved lead over Everton through Laínez just before the break. But they immediately responded through De Ketelaere then dominated the second half but we held on for penalties. And we suffered the cruellest of exits.

Chasing a first top-half finish

With 10 games remaining, we were 9 points above the bottom half of the Premier League and only 5 points off European qualification. However, we were tied on points with Man City and had a difficult run-in against 7 of the other top 10 sides!

We began with a 4-0 thumping of a poor Leeds side led by a Passant brace. And we backed that up with a pretty impressive effort to draw 1-1 with Liverpool. Passant gave us the lead on 70 minutes but Liverpool drew level through Alan Velasco four minutes later, and we did well to hold on for a point.

We unsurprisingly lost 3-0 at home to Man UFC but recovered to win 2-0 at 11th-place Leicester with López and Lainez strikes. That moved us 9 points ahead of them with 6 games to go – and saw us pass the board objective to “become an established Premier League team” 1 year ahead of schedule.

The tricky spell continued with a 2-1 loss at Spurs, in which former loanee Jamie Donley scored the winner, before nicking a 0-0 at home to Chelsea then a 1-0 loss at Arsenal. That killed off any outside chance of getting into Europe but we achieved our first top-half finish and, yet again, the best position in club history by beating 10th-place Southampton 2-1 with goals from both wingers Lainez and Cadogan.

We celebrated by thrashing Forest 5-0 away led by a Schumann-Blaschke brace, a rare Mauricio Estrada goal and 13 saves by Araújo, who played a 9.4! Then a big final day clash with Man City offered a chance to finish above them in the league. And we did as the rapidly improving Schumann-Blaschke and the ever-reliable Araújo were our heroes in a 1-0 home win. The Crazy Gang lunatics raced onto the field to mob their heroes and filled the South London sky with blue flare smoke. And that result prompted City to immediately sack Victor Kompany!

We finished the campaign in an impressive 8th-place, only 5 points away from Europe! And that’s not bad for a team with comfortably the lowest salary in the Premier League. Everton’s title bid faded badly as they slipped to 4th and Chelsea were champions for the first time since 2015. López finished second-top scorer with 22 in 33, well behind González’s ridiculous 36 in 32. While Lainez had the third-most assists with 10, only 2 behind Velasco’s league-high 12, and Avramovic got a league-high 15 bookings.

Discipline-wise we’ve slacked off with only the 7th-most bookings, 5th-most fouls and our 2 red cards was nothing to Norwich’s 9! But the most impressive thing about this season is our 35 goals conceded, compared to an xGA of 62.81, for which we firmly have Araújo to thank. He prevented an xG of 27.81, made 214 saves at 6.26 saves per 90 minutes and saved 87% of shots he faced – all of which are by far the best in the league. He also kept 3rd-most clean sheets with 16, only 2 behind Chelsea’s Diogo Costa.

Season Review

Our star man this season has definitely been Araújo, who got an average rating of 7.28 and only conceded 36 goals in 40 matches. That won him the fans’ player and young player of the season. He’s undoubtedly the best keeper in the Premier League and Liverpool and Atlético are now after him. So it’s worth noting his understudy and academy product Enoch Kyere averaged a 7.8 in 2 games.

López has also been vital with a club-high 22 goals followed by Passant (12), Cadogan (8), Schumann-Blaschke (6) and Lainez (5). While Lainez led our assist tally with 11, followed by Passant (8), Cadogan (6) and Habart and Schumann-Blaschke (5).

We also had another strong youth intake, of which the top picks were Australian left-back Luke Bell, midfielder Neil Batchelor and Scottish striker Scott Cormack.

The Wimbledon board was very happy with our efforts and rewarded me with an £8k-a-week pay rise to £20k until 2035. They also pumped another £4.8 million into improving the training facilities. And we finished the 2030/31 season with AFC Wimbledon in rude financial health, with £241 million in the bank and a transfer kitty of £76 million next season. And there may need to be plenty of change in the summer.

Can we push for Europe in season 11 with the Crazy Gang? Join us next Wednesday to find out!

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