The tragic story of footballer and Championship Manager legend Maksim Tsigalko
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If you've ever associated yourself with the Championship Manager franchise, then you'll instantly recognise the name Maksim Tsigalko.
A talented striker from Minsk, the capital of Belarus, you'd only have to fork out around £900k for arguably the best wonderkid on the game. Within a few seasons, he would guarantee your side at least 50 goals a-season.
After becoming the virtual Pele, Tsigalko would soon have his face plastered over unofficial merchandise, including eight different t-shirts featuring "The Legend" tag.
He was, and still is, a household name in the gaming community but ultimately, he failed to live up to expectation and conquer the footballing world; despite his virtual prowess.
So how did he become one of the best players in Championship Manager? Well, let's get some perspective from the man who discovered Tsigalko.
Name a better Champ Man / FM forward than Maxim Tsigalko.— Nat. Football Museum (@FootballMuseum) November 8, 2023
We'll wait. pic.twitter.com/VaaGtldLLo
Back in February 2013, Antonio Poutillo, who was in charge of selecting stats for Belarus players on Championship Manager, gave an interview about why he gave the highly-rated forward such an impressive bunch of stats.
"I was young then. I believed football in Belarus had a future. So there were no restrictions on the percentage you could put on a player." he told Gazzetta.
"I loved Tsyhalka very much. He was quick, had a sense of goal, and in the small classes he shone. He had everything he needed to become a class aggressor.
"It was also international, so I put him in a high degree of reputation (one of the most important elements of whether the player would be available in all the tournaments in the game).
"Suddenly, the forums had fired. You could get him with a little money. He'd guarantee you a goal in almost every game."
To be fair to Poutillo, you can understand why he rated Tsigalko so highly.
At the age of 16, he scored 17 goals in 27 games for Dinamo Minsk's academy side. Then, after being promoted to the first team, the talented striker would bag 24 goals in a relatively successful four-year spell in the Belarusian Premier League.
Sadly, injury would have a huge impact on his career in a heartbreaking turn of events.
He later tried his luck in Kazakstan and Armenia with FC Kaisar and FC Banants, but Tsigalko would later retire at the age of 26 after rupturing his knee.
So what happened after he decided to hang up his boots? In an interview with journalist Lefteris Danovasilis, Tsigalko revealed that he had no clue about his Championship Manager status until someone told him years later.
He also spoke of how he turned his hand to construction work but struggled with health problems:
"Nobody informed me about the game, because nobody knew the game in my country back in the day." he said.
"I firstly learned about how good I was at the game when a Russian journalist told me so, and I was really shocked. He told me that I am the most popular footballer in the game. As soon as I heard it, I just waved my head out of disbelief.
"I didn't know the game existed, so I just laughed. Later on, I realized that I could gain much money off it, but it was too late.
"When I was 23, I had a serious injury, and I had to retire from football at the age of 26. I got money from football, but I could not count on it.
"Then I started working as a construction builder for $5 per day, and later for $20 per day. I was really tired of struggling. My back and my legs couldn't withstand such a heavy job and I had serious health problems."
According to the piece, Tsigalko was unemployed during that 2018 interview and towards the end of their chat, the 37-year-old sent a final cry for help.
"When I retired from football, nobody offered me a job. Nobody called me. I have two kids, and the only thing I want, is to have a job, so I can stand up, and be a good father.
"Tell the world that I need help. Please ... "
His cry for help would later start a petition from fans to try and find him a job, which would eventually pick up over 1,600 signatures.
The petition by Nikos Bovolos read: "Maxim Tsigalko, the greatest CM player ever, has changed million of players' lives. Now it's our turn to make his life easier.
"Millions of players globally want to thank Tsigalko for the thousands of goals, for the hundreds of assists, for the hat tricks, for the headers, for all the times they celebrated his goals.
"No matter the country, no matter the team, Maxim was always there for us, the championship/football manager lovers.
"Now, we are standing by him."
Tsigalko's health deteriorated in the coming years and in December 2020, he sadly passed away at the age of 37.
Dinamo Minsk posted a tribute to one of Belarus' most loved footballing figures on Christmas Day, saying: "At the 38th year of his life, Maxim Tsigalko's heart stopped beating.
"A graduate of Dynamo Minsk, who played for the team in the 2001-2004 seasons, played 65 matches and scored 28 goals. Champion of Belarus, winner of the National Cup with Dynamo. Everlasting memory."