What Happened To Championship Manager's Greatest Player, Maxim Tsigalko
If you've ever associated yourself with the Championship Manager franchise then you'll instantly recognise the name Maxim Tsigalko; a £900k Belarusian bargain-buy who would GUARANTEE your side 50+ goals a season.
A talented Minsk-born striker who would turn into the virtual Pele, this legendary figure would soon have his face plastered over unofficial merchandise, including t-shirts available in eight different colours.
"The Legend" quote says it all.
He was a household name in the Championship Manager community but years after 01/02 was released, what has happened to this digital phenomenon? Did he live up to expectation and conquer the footballing world?
First things first, let's get some perspective from a man who discovered the real deal.
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 Tsigalko - real name Maksim Tsyhalka - a bunch of stats worthy of legendary status:
"I was young then. I believed football in Belarus has 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."
@FootballManager The real Maxim Tsigalko is asking for help to survive! Interview in a greek website about his injury and the financial problems his family is facing. https://t.co/wd9xD1mlyj
- Nikos Kapiris (@Nikosk14) June 23, 2018
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.
But injury would eventually ruin a fledging 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 he ruptured his knee playing the game he loved.
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.
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He also spoke of how he turned his hand to construction work, but he 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 the 2018 interview and towards the end of their chat, the 36-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 reads: "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."
I tried getting in touch with the great man himself, but my messages have yet to be received.
Maybe one day I will be able to speak to my virtual hero, but whatever the outcome, my respect for this elite goalscorer will never fade.
After all, he captained my Carlisle United side to Champions League glory all those years ago and for that, I thank him.