At the end of the 2020/21 season, Maximus Rigby was released from Leeds United’s Academy. Max had been at the Yorkshire club since the age of nine and was hoping to seal a professional deal at the conclusion of his scholarship. However, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and other circumstances, his dream was cut short.
For many young footballers, being let go can feel like the end of the world. Instead for Max, he saw it as an opportunity to explore a different avenue. After receiving offers from various EFL clubs, the 19-year-old was presented with the chance to head state side in the shape of a US Soccer Scholarship through FirstPoint USA and after weighing up his options, the midfielder made the decision to cross the Atlantic and open a new chapter.
LFE spoke to Max to find out how he was getting on over in the US.
Where are you studying in the US, and how long have you been there?
“I’m in my sophomore year, I’ve just finished my second fall. I’m in Pennsylvania, studying at St. Francis university, it’s a private catholic school about an hour east of Pittsburgh. I’m currently planning on majoring in Business Marketing, I’m pretty sure that’s what I want to do. I love social media, business, marketing… it’s a big part of what my family does. So, I’m sure I’ll pursue that.”
What’s your experience of the US been like so far?
“To summarize, my experience so far has been life changing. I know you hear all the stuff of people saying university are the best years of your life, but it genuinely has been such an eye opener. All my life, since I started at Leeds United at the age of nine, it’s been tunnel vision. For those nine years, it was football, football, football. Especially when you get to the scholarship years and you’re trying to get a professional deal, you’re not thinking about anything else other than getting that contract and then I wasn’t able to get one for whatever reason. Then, when you go to the US, you have education, you have football (or soccer) and you have a social aspect and it’s just like ‘wow’, there is so much more to life out there. Don’t get me wrong it’s been so difficult to get used to, new country, new people, the schedule is just mental. Last year I was ill like five times just because it was so hectic! But other than that, it’s just been amazing. It’s something that I would recommend. Since I got here, it’s just been fantastic.”
Sometimes there is a reluctance from apprentices to look into the US route, mainly because of the academic responsibilities. What would you say to someone who thinking of choosing the US route?
“I was the only lad in my year group to go (to the US) and the reaction I got from the other lads was: ‘oh my, I couldn’t do the schoolwork’ and it is a lot of work, but for me, the way I was brought up, I’ve always looked at education as being a massive back up. You know how the football industry works, you could get an injury and one minute you could be in and one minute you could be out, so education, regardless of how much work there is, it’s just part of life and you should invest in it because it could provide you with a job, it looks good on your CV. Not only that, as much as I had no idea what I was walking into, if you can get through the first tough semester and adapt to the change, it’s great. The US schooling system is definitely different, but it favours the students. I know back home you study all year long to take one exam at the end of the year. But here, you have multiple exams, so it’s little bits at different times and you’re more likely to get a better grade. It’s really not as bad as people make out if you put your mind to it.”
What’s the university culture like over there?
“It’s really good. The American culture from what I’ve experienced is very welcoming, they ask a lot of questions. It’s almost like I’m an alien really. Obviously how we do things back home is completely different, but it’s also the same industry, we just do things differently but they’re very accepting of it, very interested. It’s perfect because you can make friends easily, it’s the perfect chemistry building culture.”
Has there been anything that has took you by surprise since moving?
“Well, all my life I’ve lived at home, so to make the change was tough, I’m surprised I even did it myself, but there was something inside of me that told me it was a good thing to do. It’s like starting your life over again. I went into my dorm room and there was nothing there being an international, not even any bedsheets, no nothing! You don’t know anyone, you don’t know the campus, so I think that in itself was the hardest part. If you’re not mentally strong enough to get through that first stage, then it would be difficult. I was thinking at first ‘oh my goodness is this really what I want to do?’, you sort of question yourself, it was really overwhelming but once you get past that stage, everything opens up and it’s like ‘wow’, the benefits completely override leaving home.”
You’ve just completed your rookie year and you made the Northeast Conference Rookie Team of the Year. So, from a football perspective you’ve settled in quickly, how would you compare US college football with football in the UK academy system?
“It’s very different, in ways that are difficult to describe. There is a lot of good players out here for sure. In the NEC (Northeast Conference) right now, there are so many international guys with high-level backgrounds, really good level players. But one thing that’s different is the style. Football is competitive everywhere, but, in the conference, we have eight games and it’s super competitive and that really effects the style. One goal is almost it, it’s really down to the neck. It’s tough, it takes time to get used to, certainly getting into a new team.”
How nice was it to get into the Rookie Team of the Year?
“It was cool. It was a tough season, but I played all the games, the coaches were really nice and put a lot of belief in me. I got some good statistics, so to get that on top of another year of education was fantastic.”
First Point USA are LFE’s recommended US consultancy agency, how was your experience going through the process with them?
“Like you say, First Point are affiliated with LFE, therefore were working with Leeds at the time, so Leeds put me in contact with First Point. Firstly, they put me through a few interviews, asked me what my preferences were, position and get a highlight real together and they do the initial step all for you. They send the real out to teams and their dashboard is brilliant. You get to see who is viewing you, if you’re on their watchlist, it’s fantastic how they do it. They’re basically the middleman and it’s so helpful having someone there to guide you. Even now they’re still in touch with me and helped me get involved with the summer league, so if you need anything they’re always there.”
You mentioned the summer league, how was that?
“That was interesting. The summer league is completely different, away from university. I stayed over in Iowa during the summer and played for a top team out there. Well, I didn’t actually play any games, but it was a great experience. There was a couple of English lads in the team, one who was also at Leeds. It was a real eye opener, and it was good to do that in my freshman year because you get to understand how the summer league works, meet different players and find out their journeys, it’s all so interesting.”
Is the summer league something you’d like to continue doing?
“Yes, definitely. My dad made a good point. He said as I’ve only got a few years out here, I’ve got to drip it out for everything it has to offer, so 100%.”
What are your ultimate aspirations?
“As much as I want long-term goals, I like to take every day as it comes, one step at a time. This year I had an aim to score more goals than I did last year, which I couldn’t do, so I’ll put a real emphasis on that one especially as I’m heading into my junior senior year. It’s crazy to think how different I will feel from freshman to senior year. Already I feel so much more confident with the system, the football, so I’ll really try and achieve a lot on the pitch over the next two years. Academically, I always try to get the best grades possible. Whatever the subject is, I just aim to do my best.“
It didn’t end how you’d have wanted it to at Leeds United, but how did that experience help prepare you for what you’re doing now?
“I was at Leeds for eight or nine years, so when you’re at a place for so long, it really does mould you into who you are. I think a lot of my discipline and organisation comes from my time there. Everyday you’ve got to be on time, you’ve got to be professional, you don’t give up, that sort of mentality. Here, I’ve had to get used to a new environment, new teachers, new coaches, everything is so dynamic. So, I think the disciplinary aspect of it all (at Leeds) really helped me. The academy at Leeds, it’s definitely been a big part of my life, for sure.”
What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about going to the US?
“I would just say ride the first few weeks basically. I’ll be honest, they’re rough, but just give it a try. I feel like if I never took the chance, I’d sit there thinking that I missed out on a big part of what life has to offer. I feel like in England especially, there is such a rush to become a professional footballer but as you can see there are so many examples of guys who are over 25, 26 still making it to the World Cup, so I think coming to the US, it provides education, gives you a social life which I never had being an academy player and you still get to play football at an extremely high level. So, if you’re unsure, try it anyway. You can leave whenever you want really, so you would be stupid not to try it.”
This article features in Issue 44 of LFE’s Touchline Magazine.