Paul Kalambayi waited patiently to earn regular first-team football for Wimbledon and now he’s determined to grasp his opportunity by helping The Dons to stay up.
Though the defender made his first-team debut at Barnet back in September 2017, it wasn’t until January 2019 that he was handed a start in the league. Having progressed through our academy and played a part in FA Youth Cup runs at academy level, AFC Wimbledon means a lot to Paul, especially as other clubs didn’t offer him an opportunity.
Speaking to our iFollow channel, Paul said: “I’ve known about the story of the club from Under-18s, but I’ve been going home and doing my own research, and trying to find things out. It means a lot to play for the first-team, considering where the club came from. It would be the worst thing ever to see the club go down. For me, I’m playing to keep the club up. I am not thinking about myself, I have to do it for the fans because they deserve it.
“I left Brentford, I went to Millwall for a bit, and then I got offered a chance by Crystal Palace. I was there for a short time and within that spell I played a couple of games for the Under-16s and other clubs were getting to see me because I was a trialist. I spoke to Mark Robinson and he said I would have a better opportunity here of getting to the first-team. I saw that the pathway was clearer for me. It offered me a chance to get to the first-team at a younger age, which is always better than playing academy football. I decided to take that pathway and it’s worked out well.”
The 19-year-old defender added that he has to keep proving himself after making 10 first-team appearances since the turn of the year.
“Generally, I’m pleased with my performances. We’ve got this mentality of keeping a clean sheet. Now we are getting the wins so we just have to keep that going.
“All the hard work I’ve been putting in since Under-18s, everything that Mark Robinson and Alan Reeves have taught me, is coming in useful and I’m seeing that even more. That keeps the hunger and desire going, so never be happy with your performance. You have to keep proving yourself and doing whatever you have to do for the team.
“The toughest part of making the step-up for me is dealing with different opponents. One week you can come up against two tricky, fast forwards, and the next week you are playing against a target man. It’s a different challenge in every game, so you have to be prepared for every single scenario. You have to be ready for it, expect it to be hard, because nothing is easy.
“I’m always excited to be involved in big games. I don’t get nervous, I see it as a challenge, and I try to step-up for every game. From now on, every game is a cup final. We have to take every opponent seriously, we have to respect them, regardless of where they are in the league. We have to treat this game in the same way as all the others and try our best to win. Every game from now is a cup final.”