Words: Sid Lambert
Main Image: Twitter / Eidos
Sid runs that Proper Football account on Twitter. Follow him at @sid_lambert for an onslaught of football nostalgia.
The man shifted awkwardly in his seat. He looked to his left where the translator was nodding excitedly, scribbling numbers onto his notepad as the next salesman came in and made his pitch.
The man couldn’t listen to it anymore. They all walked the same, talked the same. Flashing their expensive watches, unbuttoning their expensive suits. Different languages, different names, same pathetic handshakes. His father had always told him you could judge a man by his grip. Theirs was weak and moist. Like men who spent their days counting other people’s money.
He glanced at the clock. How much longer? The club had said it would only be a few meetings. It would be done today, and then they could fly back home.
Still the translator kept nodding, like a dog waiting excitedly for a few crumbs of meat to be thrown from the table. Occasionally he would glance his way and implore him to show more enthusiasm. He stayed silent. Growing frustrated, the translator would turn urgently to his son hoping for some flicker of emotion.
He’d always been a shy boy. A good boy. Hard working. Never answered back, always did his chores. And then once he was done, straight outside to play with that blasted futbol. Even in the freezing cold, he was out there. You’d hear that same rhythm. The crunch of snow under his feet, the ripple of the net. Sometimes the pop as it ripped the cord from the iron frame. He chuckled to himself, remembering the song and dance he used to make when the boy called him out to fix it.
You broke it again? You know one of these days I’m going to pick this whole thing up and throw it in the furnace. Only joking, boy. But maybe next time try not to kick so hard, eh?
It seemed like yesterday. Now here they were. In a hotel room talking about contracts and bonuses with football teams he’d never heard of.
He hated the game. He wanted the boy to be a wrestler like his grandfather, but he was too skinny. He’d seen him play once or twice when the factory was closed. He was quick and slight, always shooting, just like those afternoons in the snow. In the main, he relied on monosyllabic match reports from the boy himself—Three goals, father—to keep him updated. He was surprised when Dinamo offered him a contract, mainly because he didn’t think the boy had the guts to survive on a field with proper men. And when they told him he was being sold to a club abroad, he couldn’t believe it.
He didn’t want the boy to move, if only to shut his mother up. She’d spent months clutching that fucking cross and praying for him to change his mind. But he was 18 now, and men have to make their own decisions. Even if that meant making a mistake. The club had set a price. The boy would now move to whoever could meet it and, he suspected, cross this snake’s palm with enough gold.
At that moment the translator ended the call on his mobile phone, shook hands with the latest nameless suit to enter the room, and snapped his briefcase shut.
“Our business here is complete. Congratulations Mr Tsigalko. Your son is going to Serie A.”
Finally, the boy smiled.
Image via: cmarsivi
There’s an old Belarusian proverb that if you head deep enough into the forests of Minsk and cup your ears to the wind, you’ll hear the words: "Maxim Tsigalko, 53 goals in 50 games, 7.97 average".
The striker starts Championship Manager 01/02 as a precocious teenager in Eastern Europe where he’s paid in bread and meat to score bagfuls of goals in his native league. At first glance, his stats are fairly average. He’s quick and direct, but then again so was Michael Ricketts. When you’re on a budget, taking a player from the arse-end of nowhere to solve your goal-scoring problems seems like an almighty risk.
When said player scores hat-tricks in his first two games you wonder what the fuck you were ever worried about.
You see the researchers at Championship Manager HQ knew something you didn’t. Maxim Tsigalko with his bowl cut and his awkward smile, isn’t your ordinary teenager. He’s something special. A swift glance at the data editor tells you that he’s awarded the potential of -2, which puts him firmly in the territory of ruthless robot strikers.
And that’s what Tsigalko is. A machine. Skynet couldn’t dream of making a cunt as magnificent as this. He can’t be reasoned with. He can’t be bargained with. He doesn’t feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And he absolutely will not stop until he’s scored more than a goal a game in every league, in every country across the world.
Everywhere except England, that is. You see while Tsigalko destroys defences in La Liga, Serie A, and Ligue 1, the miserly bastards at the Home Office won’t let him set foot on Premier League soil in the game until he meets the criteria for a work permit. What criteria? you cry in desperation. And nobody fucking knows. It takes years of patience, by which time you’re seriously considering blackmailing high-ranking members of parliament to see if they can speed up the paperwork. Of course, when he does arrive, he’s just as lethal as his legend suggests.
In real life, however, the rhetoric didn’t quite match the reality. Tsigalko had an unremarkable career cut short by injuries aged 26. That video up there, that's literally the only in-game footage we could find of the striker away from the computer screen. The nearest he came to conquering the globe were unsuccessful spells in the obscure football outposts of Kazakhstan and Armenia.
Still, if Donald Trump’s taught us anything, it’s that we should never let facts get in the way of a good story. Some seventeen years after his debut on the database, Tsgalko’s legend lives on in the hearts and souls of the millions of managers who owe their success to his shooting boots.
We’ll never forget you, Maxim. You were the greatest striker we never saw.
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