Against all the odds, AFC Wimbledon had gone from League One mediocrity to qualifying for the Europa League in 11 years of Football Manager. An exciting 2031/32 conclusion saw them denied Champions League in the final minute of the final day, but Trebor Mahtal was excited to lead the club into Europe for the first time.
Our transfer budget was boosted to £80m by selling right-back Cengiz Haskan to CSKA for £12.5m, left-back Filippo Carlotti to Brighton for £20m and midfielder Sebastián González to Wolfsburg for £10m. We also had a summer-long saga surrounding centre-back Gian Guerrero, who I refused to sell for less than £60m, which resulted in multiple team meetings and virtually the whole squad getting upset with me.
Brazilian wonderkids had been notably lacking in this save. But last season, our scouts identified a couple of 18-year-olds that would set that straight. The better of the two is probably midfielder Paulo Vinicius, who joined for £6.5m from Palmeiras and I’d earmarked as Youri Tielemans’ replacement. However, striker Eli (Elias Montervino) is also very exciting and arrived for £6.5m from Santos.
We also tried to keep the board happy, given they were “devastated” by our inability to sign England-based players and started vetoing bids. We got some very promising ones like 16-year-old midfielder Jordan Trodd for £3m from Brighton and Dutch winger Warner Elshot for £8.5m from West Ham, then loaned in wonderkid left-back Kazuki Ito from Man UFC.
The summer tournament fallout saw me offered jobs by Portugal, Spain and France, but I was 100% committed to the Crazy Gang cause. And here’s how our 4-4-fucking2 is looking going into 2032/33:
A flying start to the season
The media finally fancied us to avoid relegation, but only tipped us to finish 13th at 200/1 to win the league. Our weekly wage expenditure of £1.2m is now the 18th-most, still nearly 5 times less than top spenders and title favourites Chelsea.
The new season began with a Rodolfo Díaz show at Southampton, as the striker curled home a delicious effort in the first half then tapped home to finish off a nice team move in the second. And the best young player in the world Valentin Schumann-Blaschke headed home at the back post to make it comfortable before an injury-time consolation. Our other striker Juan Guillermo López impressed in our first home game as he bagged a hat-trick in a 3-0 win over Villa.
Chelsea came to Wimbledon next, having never previously lost to us. Their star striker González had a goal disallowed early on but we responded as wingers VSB and Felipe Santos finished off superb counter-attacks. Just before the break, centre-back Rik Martin headed home a VSB free-kick to make it 3-0 from just 5 shots and, unbelievably, we made it 4 through Díaz. AFC Wimbledon 4-1 Chelsea, with Andrés Araújo player of the match for 14 saves and an assist. And that’s surely the best result in club history?
The winning start ended with a solid 0-0 at Leicester but a Santos strike sealed a 1-0 win over Everton before a 4-0 hammering at Newcastle after Tielemans’ first-half red card. League leaders Man UFC were next up and scored their first shot from 30 yards. But Tonali got sent off, so we went attacking but struggled to score until two inspired substitutions. Carlos Alves whipped a cross in for Alphonso Cadogan to score his first goal of the season on 76 minutes. Then, in the last minute, a special moment saw fellow academy product Andrew Battersby nick all three points. The winner was handed to us as Fofana hit a free-kick straight to VSB, who picked out the unmarked striker to score the winner on his debut!
First-ever taste of European football
AFC Wimbledon’s first-ever European campaign saw us placed in the 3rd seed pot for the Europa League draw. We got an interesting draw alongside Lyon, Malmo and Marítimo.
Our first game in Europe took us to the east of France and there was a noticeable giddy excitement as we boarded the plane to Lyon. And that was just from the manager! We played so well in our first game in Europe, dominating Lyon – whose aging team includes Aouar, Paquetá, Bissouma and Luis Díaz – by 16 shots to nine but couldn’t make the pressure count.
The first European game at Plough Lane saw us entertain Marítimo. We eased to a 3-1 win through academy products Chris Passant and Cadogan, who both scored again in another 3-1 win at home to Malmo, alongside a very rare strike by ball-winner Leonel Tus.
We booked our place in the knockouts as Eli’s first goal for the club and another Passant strike, both assisted by Cadogan, sealed a 2-0 win in Sweden. So I rotated for the trip to Portugal, where we got a 2-2 with Passant scoring again, then beat Lyon at home thanks to an early Cadogan strike. That meant we topped the group unbeaten and Malmo knocked out old-timers Lyon!
Suffering a slight wobble
The midweek-weekend routine took its toll as we went 4 league games without a win and 2 wins in 8, including 3 draws in a row against teams in the bottom half. But an international break came at the right time, enabling us to put in a much-improved performance at home to Liverpool. Eli put us in front on the half-hour, heading home brilliantly at the near post, but Szoboszlai equalised just before half-time. We edged the second half and got our reward as Santos smashed home a stunner from 30 yards!
4 consecutive London derbies began with our first hammering in a while, losing 7-2 at leaders Arsenal. But we bounced back with 1-0 wins over Fulham and West Ham, then veteran Tielemans earned a 1-1 at Spurs. Two tough games over Christmas began with a strong 3-1 win at home to Leeds led by a VSB brace, but we lost 2-0 at Old Trafford 2 days later.
That leaves us in a solid position, sitting 6th after 20 games. However, we’re only 1 point off 3rd-place Newcastle and 4 points ahead of 10th-place Chelsea! But our youthful side had another reason to celebrate as VSB defended his FIFA Best U21 Men’s Player award.
Maintaining a strong start
We began 2033 by selling a key player of the Premier League years as López, who struggled this season and had 18 months on his contract, moved to Olympiakos for £19.5m. We also sold centre-back Tomás Vergara to Monaco for £15.5m.
On the pitch, we began the year well with a win over Ipswich and a 0-0 at home to City. Goals had been a problem all season, with no player in double figures heading into January. But Eli and Díaz both ended 10-hour goal droughts in a 2-1 win over West Brom. A run of 7 games unbeaten ended with a 1-0 loss at City before a wild 3-3 with Spurs, in which Eli scored twice including a 95th-minute equaliser. A fully rotated side drew 2-2 at West Ham before the improving Eli scored the only goal at Fulham.
Europa League knockouts
We got a tough draw in the second knockout round against Porto, who exited the Champions League despite beating Man UFC. We played well in Portugal with 23 shots to 14 and made one count through Díaz, before Porto got a late equaliser. but the impressive Díaz and Eli eased us through 2-0 at home.
Next up was Dynamo Kyiv, where we went behind early but won 4-1 with goals from Eli, Díaz and a late Cadogan brace. We rotated for the home leg and Eli’s late goal nicked a 1-1 draw to easily progress.
That teed up a semi-final with Benfica, while Koln took on Wolfsburg in the other. Our trip to Portugal was up first and a pretty dire game ended 0-0, as we only managed 1 shot on target! The home leg started much better as centre-back Guerrero hit a delicious 20-yard volley to open the scoring after 27 minutes. We were the better team and made sure of the win as Passant made a sensational run from midfield and teed up Eli for a tap-in. AFC Wimbledon were in the Europa League Final!
Outside Champions League chance
Our league form had us in contention for Champions League qualification going into the last 5 games – and, technically, in the title race! But both were very unlikely considering our tough run-in.
First up was probably the biggest game of the lot at home to 6th-place Leicester, who we led by 2 points with a game in hand. The visitors were easily the better side, racking up 25 shots, but they couldn’t get past the amazing Araújo and a VSB penalty nicked a 1-0 win. That secured the board’s top-half Premier League finish target 1 year ahead of schedule – and moved us 2 points off 3rd place!
The European adventures forced us to rest players and we took a 5-0 battering at Chelsea, lost 3-1 at home to Newcastle – in which we got 9 (NINE!) yellow cards and academy product striker Fatih Dogan got sent off – and 2-1 at Anfield. That took us to Everton on the final day needing a win to secure 5th. We lost 4-2 but still managed to wrap up 6th place and Europa League qualification – making this the first season we’ve not had the club’s best-ever league finish. But I’ll absolutely take it.
We scored 10 fewer, conceded 10 more, and got 10 fewer points than last season. But we had Araújo to thank, with his 6 player of the match performances the second-most behind Leicester striker Mbacké. We got the 5th most bookings (70) and red cards (3), which was well off West Brom’s 100 bookings and 9 red cards! But interestingly, we had the highest shots on target ratio (47%) but only the 11th most shots.
Europe League Final
The biggest game in AFC Wimbledon history took us to the Stade Roi Baudouin in Brussels. And our opponents were 1. FC Koln, who hammered Wolfsburg 6-0 in their semi.
My biggest selection headache was whether to pick Tielemans, who’d been out for 2 months and wasn’t quite sharp. But I decided we needed his experience in midfield, so we lined up:
Araújo; Alves, Martin, Guerrero, Ito; Santos, Tus, Tielemans, Schumann-Blaschke; Eli, Díaz
Subs: Passant, Kyere, Connor, Cortizas, Cadogan, A Martin, Owen, Donaldson, Elshot, Vinicius, Mendoza, Habart
The game started slowly but we made our first chance count as Martin rose highest to head home a Santos corner. We quickly doubled our lead as Díaz flicked on an Araújo long ball for Eli to race through and coolly finish. And the Brazilian doubled his tally as he tapped home a VSB cross – putting us 3-0 up from 4 shots inside 22 minutes! Koln got a goal back 4 minutes later and got on top but we held on for 3-1 at half-time. Eli came close to his hat-trick after an hour before Ito got sent off for a wild tackle 7 minutes later, so we went more cautious to try and frustrate Koln. And it worked!
AFC Wimbledon – playing 4-4-fucking2 – were Europa League champions! That’s our first trophy after 12 years at the club and the success saw Trebor Mahtal finally declared an icon at AFC Wimbledon.
What a season this was and what a journey this has been. We qualified for Europe for the second season in a row and topped that off with the club’s first-ever (professional) trophy, which secures Champions League football for the first time next season.
Wonderkid striker Eli has progressed massively this season. He broke into the first-team in January and scored 3 in 4 then in 7 games in a row through March and April. He’s now been dubbed “the next Ronaldo” (as in the original Ronaldo) and topped our goalscoring chart with 17 in 37 plus 7 assists. He was also named Europa League player of the season, scoring 7 in 9 with a 7.40 average rating.
Díaz has also been superb with 12 in 44, while Cadogan was third-top scorer with 8 goals followed by VSB and Santos (6), Guerrero (5) and Passant (4). While VSB led the way with 11 assists, winning him fans’ young player of the year. But special mention again has to go to Araújo, who had the best average rating at the club (7.19) and got 3 assists, winning him fans’ player of the season.
We also had another good youth intake led by winger Yakubu Adamu, who became the club’s youngest ever player aged 15 years and 258 days in the Kyiv second leg, along with centre-back Jonathan Joseph and another winger Joe Pearce.
The future is certainly bright at AFC Wimbledon as we spend the summer celebrating our first trophy and look ahead to life as a Champions League club for the first time.
But can we challenge the top four in England? And how will we fare against Europe’s best? Join us next Wednesday to find out!