AFC Wimbledon appear ready to tie young centre-half Paul Kalambayi down to a new contract – so impressed they have been by the maturity shown with only six games under his belt.
The 19-year-old, who only made his debut on New Year’s Day in the 2-1 defeat at Portsmouth, has a deal until the summer. The Dons are looking to extend it by another two years.
It is a real vote of confidence in the Dulwich-born defender, who is back after being briefly rested by boss Wally Downes. He has played the full 90 minutes in every match he has played.
“I am in talks over getting a new deal and hope something will be sorted quite soon,” said Kalambayi.
“It has been a great few months for me, even if we’ve not had the best results. Wally Downes gave me a chance and I was determined to take the opportunity. He’s shown me that trust and now I want to repay him by keeping clean sheets as we did at Shrewsbury at the weekend.
“He’s been very honest with me. Even when he left me out for a few games, he told me I needed a rest and he wanted to try new players. You feel part of it. I felt I was ready to make the step up as I was captain of the U23s and we were doing well. I’m very grateful that I’ve been given the chance.
“We are all under pressure because of our league position at the foot of the table, as every game feels like a cup final, but the boys know we have to stick together, and not be afraid of making mistakes. Hopefully we can still escape.”
Kalambayi is the sort of player Downes has said he wants to build a future Wimbledon around – young and hungry lads with lots of energy and determination to succeed.
But the youngster was clearly seen by previous boss Neal Ardley as a star of the future as it was he who awarded Kalambayi his first professional contract at the age of 16.
“He told me that he’d never given a contract to someone my age and I then played a couple of cup games for him,” said the defender. “That was quite a confidence boost.”
He had no time to be nervous ahead of his debut at Pompey, only learning he was about to make his league bow a couple of hours before kick-off at Fratton Park.
But Kalambayi believes in himself and has the level of dedication that suggests he can go far in the game.
“I’m always doing extra training – going for runs or doing gym work, which I did after team training today [Tuesday]. The boss wants to see good attitude and commitment and I want to prove I have that.”
His greatest strengths are also his speed and body strength and, as a centre-half, he clearly relishes the prospect of clean sheets in the way a striker savours finding the net.
But don’t be surprised to see him playing up front at some point in the future should the need arise.
“I love going forward in training and have scored quite a few goals, so maybe that’s where my future lies,” he said. “Other players have ended up changing positions. I can see it happening, although I do see myself very much as a centre-half for now and love that position.”
He represented Southwark at the London Youth Games, and has been a cross-country runner who has also tried his hand at rugby and cricket.
Were it not for football, he might have been “a firefighter or a policeman” he reckons.
Wimbledon’s gain could end up being at the expense of a couple of other local clubs. He was at Brentford’s academy – before they shelved it – and was on the radar of Millwall, where he had a trial, and Crystal Palace, where he trained. But when the opportunity came to put down a few roots at Kingsmeadow when he was 15, he jumped at the chance.
Last season he made his debut at Barnet in the Football League Trophy, but now has his sights on much bigger occasions. He has already shown he has the stomach for it.
IMAGE BY SEAN GOSLING