We are in the very first years of the new century. Football simulation games are becoming one of the great passions of teenagers (and not only!) Of the period.
Technology and realism are making great strides.
There is a game called “Championship Manager” which is becoming popular among the “virtual” coaches of the planet. There is no need to “clean” with a joystick. Here it is all strategy. In the choice of game tactics, in the players to buy or sell, those to whom the contract is renewed or not, in the choice of the module etc. etc.
Soon, in the various forums of fans, a “bomb” begins to turn.
There is a very young Belarusian player who plays for Dinamo Minsk.
It is simply a phenomenon.
You can buy it for a few million (of lire!) And within a couple of seasons it becomes an iradiddio, transforming small clubs into squadrons capable of reaching (and sometimes even winning) the Champions League.
His name is Maxim Tsigalko and for years he will make the fortune of any “fantasy coach” who will have the foresight to buy it.
The reality, as often happens, is very different.
Maxim Tsigalko (whose real name is Maksim Cyhalka) is actually an excellent prospect in the youth academy.
Anton Putilo “falls in love” with him, who is the consultant of Championship Manager for Belarus. He is ready to bet on the boy’s qualities.
When the programmers of the most popular football management game on the planet send the data to the game headquarters in England, they will find impressive statistics.
On a scale of values from 1 to 20 Tsigalko is assigned the maximum (20) in “creativity”, “finalization”, “unmarking” and “technique” and a nice 19 in “speed”.
A certainty for the “Golden Ball” in a few seasons!
On a real football field, without absolutely justifying the emphasis of his “discoverer” Tsigalko still knows his stuff.
In Dinamo Minsk he scores regularly, becomes a permanent holder of the Under-21 national team of his country, wins trophies at home in 2003 and 2004 (National Cup and Championship respectively) and in 2003, just twenty years ago his debut with the Belarusian national team in a friendly against Uzbekistan, scoring in the final draw for two to two.
No, he will not become either Messi or Ronaldo that in that period by dint of goals and extraordinary performances with Barcelona and Manchester United respectively are emerging on the world football scene.
But his space in football that counts is getting it.
There is talk of his possible transfer to some higher level league (Greek, Turkish, Swiss) when fate decides to forcefully enter the game.
At 23 he literally shatters a knee. Long months in the pits and when he returns the sensations are anything but good.
Dinamo Minsk sends him out on loan to small teams such as Naftan, Qaisar in Kazakhstan or Banants in Armenia..
In the 2008-2009 season he returned to Belarus in Savit Mahilëŭ but here, thanks to another serious hip injury this time, he had to give up definitively.CopyAMP code
Tsigalko is only 26 years old, he has only ever played football and there is a new life to invent himself.
The construction site is the only concrete prospect.
And while millions of fantasy coaches are enjoying his exploits from a computer screen, Maxim Tsigalko works around a concrete mixer.
Unfortunately, his physique undermined by the two serious injuries does not allow him to resist for long.
He has to give up.
In his early thirties he remains unemployed.
Terrible prospect since Maxim has married in the meantime and there are also two young children to support.
It will also make an appeal but without tangible results.
The news of his situation begins to circulate also among the fans of Championship Manager, those who thanks to his floods of goals have accumulated joys and trophies.
There is someone who launches a subscription unfortunately with very little results.
There are also those who have made some money by printing T-shirts with his effigy.
Then comes the news.
Maxim Tsigalko died.
At just 37 years old, on Christmas day 2020.
“Died in dramatic situations” is the only thing that leaks out of Belarus.
In 2019 Maxim Tsigalko was elected “the greatest footballer in the history of Football Manager” (current name of the game) as unique, as confirmed by thousands of “fantasy coaches”, capable of scoring over 2000 career goals.
… of all this “fame” he learned something only shortly before his death, thanks to a Russian journalist.
Real and virtual … sometimes the difference can be really cruel.