Paul Kalamabyi is raring to go for first-team action again, but he’s not expecting to be pitched into an emergency striker role!
Back in 2017 the teenage Kalambayi showed his eye for goal when Robbo was Under-18s manager with a last-gasp goal. Fast forward four-and-a-half years and the centre-back could on Saturday be entrusted with filling the void at centre-back left by Will Nightingale’s unfortunate injury. PK was quick to send his support to his team-mate, but he would love to replicate Will’s feats in front of goal this season – and provide a glimpse of that previous striking talent!
“I always said to Robbo, ‘if you need a striker, put me up there, I will do a job!’ I think it was one of our last games, we needed a goal, and for the last 10 he said, ‘go on PK, get up there’. I had told one of our players Tino beforehand that if I made that run just put it in there, and I managed to get on the end of it. You had all the Under-16s, Under-18s, and everyone there just going mad. It was a great feeling, so I will try to replicate that at first-team level as much as I can!
“Will led by example defensively, and he also contributed with the goals. We set ourselves targets as defenders and he was just two away from his target. Unfortunately, Will got injured, and I would honestly not wish rehab on anyone. I know how hard it is, I’ve been through it, and I know Will has been through it a lot, so we are just trying to support him as a group. We wish him all the best with his recovery. It’s unfortunate because he was having a great season, it’s the best I’ve seen him play, and I’ve been here so long.”
Now aged 22, Kalambayi is proud to play a big part at a club he joined back in 2015, and he believes he can get so much better after making 66 Wimbledon appearances so far.
“For me personally, the club is going in the right direction, and as long as I keep seeing that progress this is somewhere that you want to be. It’s somewhere I can always learn with a manager who believes in me. He challenges us, and I think that will bring the best out of every single one of the players. Seeing the progress we’ve made, and how much there is to come, makes me excited. Loads of the players are excited about it as well.
“When we were in the academy playing at Plough Lane was like a myth! We would always be told, ‘don’t worry the new stadium is coming this year’ and time would go on, so the first time at Plough Lane it was like ‘wow, it’s happened, we are literally here!’ As former academy players, loads of us are playing there after hearing all the stories. For me, it just shows what’s happening at the club now. We are moving in the right direction as we are at the new stadium and we have players that want to play for the club. We believe in the story of the club – the greatest story in football – and we are trying to carry it on.”
Kalambayi thanked physio Tim Maynard for playing such a big part in his recuperation from an injury that has kept him out since he scored his first Wimbledon goal at senior level in the EFL Trophy victory versus Portsmouth.
“I’ve been out for five or six weeks, so I’ve been pleased to train with the team again, and I’m excited for the game on Saturday. Tim helped me loads, he kept me positive and I gained confidence every week with the rehab programme he gave me. He also helped me a lot mentally, and we got to know each other even more. I’d like to thank him for that because no one will have seen the work that he does with me. So much work goes on in the background to get me back onto the pitch.
“My main focus has always been the team, so when I’m called upon I will give the team 100 per cent. If someone else is playing then you think, ‘what next?’ You’ve got to encourage your team-mates. If I’m not playing I will still play my part because we are all in it together. I was doing well, and then I got injured, but I’m back now, so I’m excited.
“After the games I watched recently I always gave feedback to the players when we went through analysis at the training ground. I’m always learning from it because you put yourself in someone else’s position. You can learn one or two things from that. It was quite interesting as I became more of an analyst than a player!”