AFC Wimbledon won a thrilling title battle with Liverpool to become Champions of England for the second time in 2035/36. The challenge now was to strengthen to become the dominant force in England and compete in the Champions League.
Unsurprisingly, all the biggest teams in the world were after the likes of Eli and Rodolfo Díaz, who pleased me no end by telling me they weren’t interested in joining Real Madrid and Barcelona. I love these boys! Spurs yet again massively overpaid for one of our players, spending a ridiculous £40m for backup right-back Ed Connor. We also sold Chinese midfielder Lei Wang to Olympiakos for £22.5m and academy product goalkeeper Enoch Kyere, who played 20 league games in 10 years, to Burnley for £6m.
The summer began with the arrival of wonderkid 19-year-old England international Harrison Fuller, who’s technically a striker but we’ll retrain as a right-winger, for £40m from Fulham. He was quickly joined by a fellow wonderkid in midfielder Apostolos Papargyriou for £8.5m from PAOK then a much-needed left-back Nelson Pareja, who was probably a little too expensive at £45m from Man UFC – which was a record fee for an Ecuadorian. It took a little longer to find a centre-back, of which we only had three, but we eventually paid a cool £34m for Dortmund’s Frederic Helmes and £13.25m for Sivasspor’s Aykut Sirin.
With those summer deals done, here’s how our 4-4-fucking2 looks for the coming season:
Starting with silverware
The new season began with the odd-sounding showcase of AFC Wimbledon v Ipswich in the Charity Shield. And another piece of silverware followed as we won on penalties after a 1-1 draw thanks to Eli’s goal created by debutant Papargyriou.
Title defence begins
The media finally have loftier expectations but still only fancy us to finish 5th at 15/1 for the title. Liverpool are favourites followed by Chelsea, Man City and Man UFC, who finished 8th last season. We now have the 8th-highest wage expenditure in the league, but our board only expects a top-half finish.
Our title defence began with a trip to newly-promoted Fulham and we strolled to a 3-0 win led by an Eli brace, which moved him within 20 goals of Daniel Jebbison’s all-time record of 103 league goals. His strike partner Díaz then bagged a brace to inspire a 3-2 win over Villa in our first home game followed by a 3-0 win at Newcastle thanks to goals from Valentin Schumann-Blaschke, Díaz and Eli.
The winning start ended with a scrappy 0-0 at home to Leeds then an even scrappier 2-2 at Everton that saw both sides reduced to 10 men. But we got back on track in style by thumping West Ham 5-1, which took us to 20 league games unbeaten. We kicked on from there as Eli scored twice and Fuller got his first for the club in a 3-1 win at home to Brighton, Eli scored again as we downed Southampton 2-1, and the timeless Theo Hernández, who just turned 39, scored a late penalty to nick a huge 2-1 win over Liverpool.
Our first loss followed with a 3-1 defeat at Spurs. Then a brutal week of fixtures began with a 2-0 loss at Man UFC, then Eli and a Kardec brace downed Arsenal 3-1 and centre-back Daniel Pacheco bagged a brace to beat Chelsea 3-1. And we ended the year on a high with a string of wins running into a dominant 4-1 thrashing of Man City led by a brilliant Eli hat-trick.
That leaves us 7 points clear at the top after 18 games. Eli is the second-top scorer with 15 in 16 but tops the league’s average rating on 7.61 only ahead of Díaz (7.60), who tops the assists chart with 8.
Feisty Champions League group
Our hopes of Champions League glory were dealt a blow with a group of Atlético, Dortmund and Kobenhavn. We started poorly as the classic Crazy Gang roots shone through bright with Fuller getting sent off 10 minutes into his debut and Gary Bazerque also getting a straight red 10 minutes later! And we somehow only lost 1-0 in Denmark.
A 93rd-minute Alan Kardec strike nicked us a 3-2 win at home to Atlético, in which Eli and Díaz also both scored and we set a new gate receipts record of £950k – yet they still won’t build us a new stadium! We also excelled in Germany as Díaz and Pereja’s first for the club gave us a deserved 2-0 win then Juanjo Hernando bagged a brace to beat Dortmund 3-0. Atlético got their revenge with a 3-2 win in Spain, in which we again had two players sent off! But we wrapped up the group with a 4-0 win at home to Kobenhavn with goals from Pacheco, Hernández, Viní Jr.’s first of the season and Fuller.
A new era at AFC Wimbledon
After 15 years at the club, we got our first new owner as Jaroslaw Królewski took over as chairperson from Joe Palmer at the end of 2036. Pleasingly, the new chairperson removed the club culture item of signing players based in England, retained the focus on direct football and set-pieces, and added playing attacking and counter-attacking football. He also wants us to work to establish the best youth system not only in the country but in the world. And Kowalewski moved immediately to give me a new five-year contract that doubled my wages to £70k-a-week.
Ballon d’Or Winner!
The new owners had something to celebrate as Eli unexpectedly became the first-ever Wimbledon player to win the Ballon d’Or. He’s had a magnificent year, scoring 36 in 37 games at an average rating of 7.63. The superstar striker also claimed FIFA Best Men’s Player and FIFPro Player of the Year. New boy Fuller won European Golden Boy and Eli and Javier Santamaría were named in the FIFPro Team of the Year.
Chasing a goals record
2037 began with a big sale as backup midfielder Juanjo Hernando joined Newcastle for an outrageous £65m. Fellow midfielder Paulo Vinicius joined Almería, another homegrown backup keeper Scott Khouri joined Ipswich for £2m, but we have an exciting Brazilian replacement arriving in the summer, and reserve striker Scott Liddle joined Norwich for £8m. We replaced the outgoing midfielders with an exciting option and yet another Vinicius in Vinicius José, who joined for £11m from Palmeiras.
On the pitch, the new board saw us beat Southampton 2-1 thanks to a rare brace from right-winger Dan Grayson, who’s been unusually subdued this season. Eli and a brace by left-winger Luciano Da Luz led a 4-1 thumping of Sheffield United before Eli’s brace inspired a 3-2 win at Brighton – taking the outstanding young forward to 100 league goals for AFC Wimbledon.
He added 2 more to down Spurs 2-0, taking him 1 goal behind Jebbison’s record. He then went an unprecedented 3 games without a goal but we still beat Liverpool and thrashed City 4-1 again led by a Pacheco hat-trick! That took us to 11 wins on the bounce and a mighty 16 points clear at the top. Eli equalled the record with a first-half strike as we beat Fulham 3-0 then smashed it in style as he hit a hat-trick in a 4-1 hammering of Palace – taking him to a record 106 league goals for AFC Wimbledon in just 153 games. And he’s now the only player during this save to become a club icon!
Champions League knockouts
The first knockout round gave us the best draw available against Sporting. We took control with a 3-0 away win as Díaz scored 2 before a late Eli strike then Da Luz scored 2 in a 3-1 home win. Next up was Juventus and we again took control away from home as Pacheco and Grayson strikes earned a 2-0 win. The home leg was my 800th match in charge of the Crazy Gang and we celebrated it with a 3-1 win led by an Alan Kardec brace.
The semi-final got much more difficult as we took on reigning champions Real Madrid, while Barca took on Atlético in the other. The home leg was first up and we got a great start through Eli – who then got injured – only for Madrid to turn things around with 2 Adeyemi goals.
Our players were absolutely exhausted heading to the Bernabéu – so much so that 36-year-old Viní Jr. got a start against his former club! But we made another great start as Alan Kardec headed home inside 9 minutes then a brilliant team move that began with keeper Andrés Araújo ended up with Viní Jr. sending Díaz through to tuck home 2 minutes later! But Madrid inevitably got a goal back 10 minutes later before forcing a massive save out of Araújo just before half-time.
Madrid were much better in the second half but found Araújo in fine form. But not content with making saves, in the 73rd-minute he launched the ball over the top for Díaz to race onto and smash home his 2nd. Putting us 4-3 ahead on aggregate. I went massively defensive and it worked as we held on to beat Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. And reach the Champions League Final! This is easily the best performance of this save so far.
Looking to dominate
Our impressive 14-game unbeaten run ended at Sheffield United but we still had a 13-point lead going into the final 10 games. The relentless Eli scored 2 more in a 2-0 win over Forest, which broke his own club record for most goals in a season (32). Díaz nicked us a point at Chelsea before Papargyriou scored the only goal at Arsenal and a rotated side still beat Derby 3-0, taking us 13 points clear with 6 to play. Grayson nicked a point at Leicester but the title race probably wasn’t as close as the media hoped…
Another away draw at Leicester saw UFC gain more ground but that man Eli – who else? – bagged a brace before a late Kardec strike to beat Newcastle 3-1.
That confirmed back-to-back Premier League titles for AFC Wimbledon!
Due to what else was happening, the first-team was given a lengthy rest and we eventually won the title by 11 points, finishing on 87 points and scoring 90 goals. Interestingly, Everton were relegated for the first time since 1951!
Eli was the joint-top scorer with 29 goals in 31 games and had a league-high average rating of 7.65, and deservedly became our first player to win the Footballer of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Best Player in Europe awards. Díaz topped the assists with 15 followed by VSB’s 13 and the impressive Pareja won Players’ Young Player of the Year.
A little bit of history repeated or avenged?
We also had a fine run in the FA Cup, easing past Colchester, Millwall, West Brom and Everton to reach the semis. Then an Eli brace led a 3-0 battering of Arsenal in the semis, sending the Crazy Gang into the FA Cup Final for the first time since they beat the Culture Club 1-0 back in 1988.
And it was beautifully fitting that our opponent in the Final 49 years later was… Liverpool! A dire first half saw 0 highlights but a stern talking to woke the lads up. Fuller pounced on a loose ball to poke us ahead on 55 minutes but Liverpool came back into it and probably deservedly nicked it with 2 late Foden goals.
Champions League Final
Our 2nd Champions League Final saw us take on another Madrid side Atlético, who beat Barca 6-5 on aggregate, in Belgrade. We were sweating on the fitness of Eli and, after the cup disappointment, I decided we needed him. While Pareja obviously tore his hamstring 2 days before the final so Hernández became what must be the oldest-ever Champions League finalist. We lined up:
Araújo; Santamaría, Pacheco, Augusto, Hernández; Fuller, Bazerque, Papargyriou, VSB; Eli, Díaz
Subs: Kardec, Losada, Aykut, Vini José, Grayson, Ploem, González, Viní Jr., Dogan, Da Luz
This time we started brightly and Fuller hit the post early on. But the game swung on a ridiculous penalty decision for a foul that was clearly a yard outside the box. Araújo saved it but Hannibal scored the rebound. We had the best of the game but it looked like being a wasted effort. That was until the 87th minute, when substitute Viní Jr. sent Díaz through and his shot rebounded to Kardec to tap home a deserved equaliser. Nothing else happened until the final minute of extra-time, when Pacheco climbed highest at a corner and headed a huge chance over the bar. So we went to penalties.
Viní Jr. scored first as did Hannibal, but Hernández hit the post and Atlético scored. But Augusto tucked home then Araújo saved their 3rd and both teams scored the next 2 to make it 4-4 after 5 spot-kicks each. Araújo came up big again to save the first penalty in sudden death, heaping the pressure onto midfielder Joerie Ploem. But the Dutchman kept calm and tucked it into the bottom corner. Fittingly, the legendary Araújo was player of the match.
AFC Wimbledon were Champions of Europe!!
What an unbelievable season this has been! Not only a 3rd English title in 4 years but also becoming European champions, a first FA Cup Final and a Charity Shield win. This team really has become absolutely brilliant and, importantly, still plays the same direct, dirty style of football we set out to play in League One 16 years ago.
Our star man was undoubtedly the world’s best player Eli, who scored a club-record 40 goals in 43 games with 12 assists at a 7.61 average rating. Nearly as good was Díaz, who scored 17 and got 16 assists in 47 games, and Alan Kardec scored an impressive 20 in 30. VSB again topped our assists chart with 17, Santamaría got 10 assists, and Fuller scored 12 and got 9 assists.
I was considering ending this save if/when we won the Champions League as I didn’t think it would come this soon. But I’m excited to keep the save going and see what this promising young squad can achieve and, more specifically, what the outrageously talented attack of Eli, Díaz and Alan Kardec can achieve.
Join us next Wednesday to discover how we fare in our Premier League and Champions League defences!