Paul Kalambayi’s impressive form since making his league debut in January has been rewarded with a new contract at AFC Wimbledon.
Paul, who celebrates his 20th birthday next month, joined our academy at the age of 15 after turning down interest from Crystal Palace and he’s decided that Wimbledon is the best place for him to continue developing as a player.
The towering defender’s commanding displays were an integral part of our Great Escape at the end of last season and Wally Downes believes that Paul will be a real asset for Wimbledon in the future.
Wally, who handed Paul his league debut at Portsmouth on 1 January in front of a crowd of 18,732 spectators, said: “Paul has been terrific. He had a little period after making his debut when he had to come out of the team, but his attitude was fantastic. Paul didn’t sulk because he thought that he should have been in the team, he heeded the advice that I gave him at the time. I told Paul, ‘you’ve been in the team, but you are coming out of the team now. You will get back in, but you have to be ready when you do get the chance again’. I said that he could not afford to take his foot off the gas and Paul knuckled down in response. When he got back into the team he did what he had to do and he was terrific.
“Paul needs to be working on his all-round game. He is a young player and I’m not going to take him away and say ‘you need to do this’. It is a critical period for him now because he’s in the team and learning on the job. At the moment, he has learned on the job really well and he was a big part of everything we did last season. He needs to be working on his overall game all of the time.”
After joining our academy in 2015, Paul didn’t take long to make a big impression at AFC Wimbledon. Starring for the young Dons in a stunning FA Youth Cup run that included victories against Watford and Newcastle United, Paul played alongside Toby Sibbick for our Under-18s in front of over 3,000 spectators at the Cherry Red Records Stadium, as they bowed out to eventual winners Chelsea.
Paul, who played youth football for Dulwich Village, continued his progress through the ranks and was captain of our development squad, before making his first-team debut at Barnet in August 2017. After waiting patiently for another first-team chance, Paul’s real breakthrough came last season as he made 19 appearances in all competitions, becoming a regular in the second half of a campaign that ended with League One survival at Bradford.
Speaking about Paul’s decision to stay at Wimbledon, Wally reiterated his commitment to giving young talents a chance to shine.
“Any young players that come and sign at this club know that they are going to be given a chance to be in the first-team if they show that they are good enough,” said Wally. “We don’t want to be in a position where the agents of young lads are saying ‘I want to move this player because his pathway is elsewhere’. If I sign a young player here who I think is good enough I want to have him in the team. Age will never be a barrier. If I think they’ve done well enough they will get their chances. If someone more senior is coming out of the team, I won't hesitate to replace him with an inexperienced player if I think he is good enough. I will put them in the team because I think they can do a job.”
Keen an eye out later for an extensive interview with Paul on the official website.