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Interview #49- Paul Kalambayi
Paul Kalambayi is an English professional footballer playing for AFC Wimbledon in EFL League One. A strong centerback, Kalambayi is the real deal having signed his first professional contract at 16. Now 20, Paul Kalambayi has played for both the senior squads at Wimbledon and at Tonbridge Angels, a side which he was loaned out to. A player with loads of talent and potential, Kalambayi is one of the fastest rising stars in England! Truly a top talent and top person, read our interview with the star player below!
1. Born in Dulwich, England, what was your youth youth career like?
My youth career was enjoyable, I was just enjoying football and playing in the Sunday League for Dulwich. As a kid, you couldn’t wait to play on a Sunday. And from there I got picked up by Brentford Academy at u12 and was there from 13 to 15, then they shut down when I was a u16. Then I had to find alternatives.
2. In 2015, you joined Wimbledon Academy. How did the opportunity come about?
So when Brentford shut down, many teams were offering me positions and I switched to center-back cause I always liked defending and many clubs like Wimbledon liked me. I went and played with Wimbledon twice, they liked me and told me that there is a chance I can get into the first team at an early age and went on board with it and went ahead with it.
3. Your early development saw you feature in the Wimbledon Development squad at only 16. What was this whole experience like?
I played about the two games for the 16’s. And then the next year I got offered a professional contract which I signed when I turned 17. Within that (pre-signing professional contract), we went on a good Youth Cup run, playing against Chelsea in front of 4 thousand people. During that time, I was in and out of the 18s, going up with Alan Reeves who was the u23 manager. I played my first game in the London Senior Cup, I remember it. It was a lot hard physically and the pace of the game and I had to adapt to that. Six months later
4. In 2016, you signed your first professional contract at only 16 years of age. What were your thoughts after signing your first professional contract?
After signing my professional I was very fortunate. For me it was really all the hard work that I put in had paid off and now that I am finally here I got to be the best of the best, that’s what you should strive for as a kid. So, I carried on training even harder and listening and learning with the senior players to one day feature for the first team. It’s really important as you come from a club where you’re taught from young the value of the club, so you don’t just play for yourself. There’s a lot of reasons why you play for the club. If you know the story of the club then it should help you understand what the values mean.
5. Describe your time with the AFC Wimbledon Development team and what it taught you as a player.
That phase for me was the biggest one for me because that made me into the player I am. a lot of work we had with Reeves really developed me as a defender and I could see myself becoming a better defender every week, always improving and always learning. That was it, that was the time that got me ready for the first team and all I need next was to go on loan, which I did at 18 and that helped a lot. That taught me a lot. In the second game I got stitches on my lip and I realized this is a mans game now and that is it, that’s what made me become the defender I am.
6. What was your first professional season with AFC Wimbledon like?
My first professional season was exiting for me because I always liked a challenge and that wsa the test of all tests. When I made my debut, we were at the bottom of the table, 12 points adrift and coming out against Portsmouth, the league leaders, we lost 1-0. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. The crowd, all the fans, I was literally exitted for the game and stayed professional. The gaffer told me I was starting a couple hours before the game started. I was exited and ready to show what I had. I had always prepared for that moment and I knew I was ready. You always have to prepare whether you’re on the bench and everyday in training.
In my first game I played well, impressed the gaffer. Unfortunate about the result and I got a taste of what it was. We did that well that season to get out of it and in the last game we need to keep a clean sheet and for me that is always the main thing. I hate conceding, whether it’s in the game or in training. Once we kept the clean sheet against Bradford it was literally the best day ever for me, the best in all of my life to be fair!
7. In 2017, you stepped on to the pitch for the first time with the senior team. How were you feeling when walking on to that pitch?
Walking on the pitch is the best feeling as a young lad coming in. You think about that hard work you put in, all that training and to be in the team of 18 where a squad has 28-30 players you just want to impress and show everyone got. That was my mentality, I wanted to show everyone what I got. At the same time, it was one of my greatest days making my debut. And training for the first team, looking up to them on the 18 squad and even cleaning their boots, it was great.
8. In 2018, you were loaned out to Isthmian League Premier Division side Tonbridge Angels FC. How was your short tenure with Tonbridge?
Going on loan at Tonbridge Angels was tough in terms of the game and the pace of it. But I knew had quality and the abilities to cope with it. That was a raw learning curb and insight on what it’s like to be playing in the first team game, no matter what level it is, it’s a mens game. So that was different from 18s where I could play knowing I am better than a lot of players and I had to adapt. They were losing many games when I came in and that all changed. The manager liked me, and I got called back after 5 or 6 games to train with the first team again and help them out in whatever areas they needed for the games. At the same time, it was a real opportunity and make my mark and show good qualities.
9. Before the stop of the season, how was your season going with AFC Wimbledon?
Before the stop of the season, I was coming back from injury. But before that, I was playing well for the first half of the season, playing 22 games. I had come back from injury and this horrible situation which we are in now slowed everything down and we had to stop. It was going well, then it went downhill.
10. Who’s the greatest player you’ve ever played against and why?
I have played against many great players and hope to play against better players, I hope. For me, the greatest player I played against is Tammy Abraham, because he went on to play in the Premier League and is scoring goals. He’s the greatest player and he’s the Chelsea number 9, nobody can beat him right now.
13. What’s your greatest football memory?
My greatest football memory was last season at Bradford, 0-0 draw. The game finished and you can see the away supporters, our fans from Wimbledon, coming onto the pitch and you can just feel like you’ve accomplished something and feel like a hero. Because of that draw, we were staying up. It was a great way to stay up, a clean sheet and it was the best feeling ever.
14. What are your goals for the future?
Any footballer, you always want to improve and always play the highest level possible. So my goals for the future are to play in the Premier League. That’s what I aim to do. I don’t know how it’s going to happen, but it will happen. What you can do it train and prepare and be ready for when an opportunity arises so my goal for the future is to play in the Premiership.
Founder, The Sports Court
Photo via https://twitter.com/paul_kalambayi
Big ups to Paul for the awesome interview! Best of luck with everything my man! Truly a top player and top person!
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