How many Belarusian footballers can you count? Aliaksandr Hleb, obviously. Championship/Football Manager enthusiasts can also name Maksim Tsyhalka as an example. What about Maksim Romashchenko? Has no one heard of him before? Well, it is that time of the year again! Maksim Romashchenko is an underrated footballer simply because of the fact that his talent was overshadowed by his compatriot, Aliaksandr Hleb. In his 20-year professional career, he played for 14 different clubs and scored 103 goals in 451 matches for those clubs. We will now take a look at the life and career of a player who was outdone by a certain Aliaksandr Hleb.
As usual, we will start with the early life and career of this player. Maksim Yorevich Romashchenko was born on 31 July 1976 in Pavlohrad, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union. He began his career with FC Dnipro at youth level. In 1993, the 17-year old Maksim played his first professional match for Polihraftekhnika Oleksandria. After scoring twice in 17 appearances with ‘Sashka (The Alex)’, he went to Mogilev in Belarus to play for FC Dnepr. With a goal in 15 appearances to his name, he later joined Fandok Bobruisk. After a single appearance with this soon-to-be disbanded club, he departed for the Mazyr side MPKC (Mazyrski Pramyslova-Kamertsyyny Tsentr), now known as Slavia Mazyr, in 1995.
From that move on, nothing would ever be same for this prodigy. His performances for MPKC Mazyr, 21 goals in 58 appearances as well as a Belarusian league and cup double in 1996, earned Maksim a move to Russian giants, Dynamo Moscow in 1997. During his time with Dynamo, he received his first full international cap for Belarus – more on that later. In the year 2000, after scoring 15 times in 89 matches for ‘Belo-golubye (The White and Blues)’, Romashchenko joined Turkish side Gaziantepspor. In his first season (not his first full season!) with ‘Şahinler (The Falcons)‘, he came close to lifting the league title with the south-eastern Turkish side. 2003 saw Romashchenko depart Gaziantepspor for Trabzonspor, having found the back of the net 20 times in 62 matches for ‘The Falcons’. In his solitary season with the Black Sea club, he scored 6 in 20 matches.
He also won the Turkish Cup with Trabzonspor in 2004. Maksim then returned to Central Dynamo Stadium in the same year. He won the Belarusian Footballer of the Year award at the end of the year. Failing to lift a trophy with ‘Dinamiki (The Loudspeakers)’ in his second spell, he left Dynamo Moscow in 2006, recording 9 goals in a total of 43 appearances in the process. In 2007, he joined one of the local rivals of Dynamo, FC Torpedo. Despite scoring 15 times in 27 matches in all competitions for ‘Avtozavodtsy (The Car Factory Workers’, his club failed to return to Russian Premier League at the first time of asking. Consequently, he came back to Turkey in January 2008, this time for Bursaspor. His journey with the Bursa side did not last long, however, as he joined Khimki in July 2009 after getting on the scoresheet 4 times in 36 matches for ‘Yeşil Timsahlar (The Green Crocodiles)’. Towards the end of his career, Romashchenko also played for Salyut Belgorod, Dynamo Bryansk, and a second spell with Khimki before finally retiring in 2013.
At international level, Maksim Romashchenko was one of those players as he was more productive for his country. He first played for Belarus’s U21 side, averaging nearly a goal in two games – 5 goals in 12 caps. This impressive performance caught the attention of Mikhail Vergeyenko, the manager of Belarus at the time. He was given a chance against Lithuania on 7 June 1998, and he delivered it in the 81st minute of the game by scoring the last goal in the 5-0 friendly win at Dinamo Stadium in Minsk. In his second game for the country, another friendly against the same opposition on 19 August in Vilnius. Coincidentally, he scored the last goal of the 3-0 win. Maksim had to wait 4 years and 2 days to score another goal for his country – a brace against Latvia. His other victims include Italy -against whom he scored twice in a 3-4 loss-, and Romania. Romashchenko’s only international hat-trick came against Latvia in 2004. Maksim Romashchenko can also claim to have scored five times in the space of 3 days for Belarus, as goals against Cyprus and Latvia in Cyprus International Football Tournament in February 2004 proves that. His last goal for Belarus came against Malta on 6 February 2008.
He retired with 20 goals in 64 international caps, scoring more goals for the White Wings than any other player. His other international honours include an LG Cup victory in 2002 and a Malta International Football Tournament in 2008. As for his style of play, not only could he play on the left side of the pitch, but also as a number 10. His silky passes and lethal left foot proved crucial wherever he went. When at his peak, he could be the real deal.
What was the reason for Maksim Yorevich Romashchenko’s failure to lure football clubs outside Eastern Europe, then? It certainly cannot be the opinion that Belarusian players cannot thrive in Western Europe since the likes of Sergey Gotsmanov and Sergei Aleinikov had proved otherwise in the early 1990s, in England and Italy, respectively. Maksim was not a lazy player, either. He had to work hard in order to play for a big club, and his performance for MPKC Mazyr is the clearest form of evidence of that. Maybe he was just unlucky, he could have reached the standards Aliaksandr Hleb or Vitali Kutuzov did have scouts from the western side of the continent came to see Maksim Romashchenko play on the pitch.
He will remain one of the what-ifs of European football, that is for sure.