Who would be an agent, even a successful one? For a start, there is the whole problem of the image (those cloven hooves, the distinct lack of a shadow ...) and then there are those pesky players and their egos to contend with. It is not an easy life.
Max Eisenbud, though, makes it look like a walk in the park. He is one of the best known suits at IMG and he has helped Maria Sharapova climb to the top of the heap. Oh, the rankings computer may have her listed behind Victoria Azarenka as only the second best player on the planet, but in all other departments, no one can touch Shazza. She not just a tennis player, she is an international brand and thanks to Max’s magic, she has a licence to print money and an open invitation to go wherever she likes.
This, you would imagine, makes Max a very happy – and a very wealthy – man. But today he is caught between a rock and a hard place. Today, Max is in a muddle. Today his leading client – Shazza – plays his second leading client, Li Na, for a place in the final of the Australian Open. That’s a tricky one: where to sit, who to support? How not to incur the wrath of either player (and with their danders up, both women can be terrifying)? Cor lummy, this ain’t going to be easy.
But when Max’s dilemma was presented to Sharapova, she could not see the problem. Who did she think her agent would be supporting?
“I think we know the answer to that,” she said with that look that can turn a grown man’s legs to jelly. “I think when you've worked with someone for as many years as we have, it's beyond money and deals.”
Li tended to agree. She gave the impression that she knew her place in the pecking order.
“I think Max just eat sugar and be somewhere else,” the Chinese No.1 said. “You couldn't find him.”
Ah, yes: sugar. Sharapova’s latest money-making venture is her line of sweets, Sugarpova: a “premium line of gummy candies by Maria Sharapova” according to the publicity blurb. As with everything in Shazza’s life, Max has helped with this, too, and is the chief executive of the company. The business is doing well, by all accounts.
But Li’s business is doing pretty well, too. She may not have quite the same international profile as La Shazza but with 1.3 billion people in China supporting her every move, she has a huge domestic fan base. And Max has been trading on that. In the three months following her French Open win in 2011, he brokered $42 million worth of endorsement contracts. “We could do five more endorsement deals but she just doesn’t have the time,” he said back then.
Li, then, is big business, big enough to earn her the No.2 slot in the Forbes List of best paid female athletes. This came as news to Sharapova, and she did not sound too impressed.
“Since when do we pay attention to Forbes?” she asked, sniffily.
At this point, our valiant hack tried to smooth her ruffled feathers and informed her that she, Sharapova, was the highest paid athlete, the undisputed No.1.
“Do you think that they have my pass code to my bank account?” she asked, putting m’colleague in his place. “I don't know,” came the spluttering reply. “Well, think about it.” Game, set and match Miss Sharapova.
If the form book is to be believed, it will probably be the same result today, too. Sharapova leads their career rivalry 8-4 and all four of those losses came while she was still dealing with her shoulder problems. Since Shazza has returned to full fitness, she has had the better of her Chinese rival. Even so, she is approaching today’s match warily.
Since Li has been working with Carlos Rodriguez, she has been racking up the results and, after the most intense winter training program she has ever experienced, she now feels fit, strong and confident. And Sharapova has made note of these changes.
“She certainly stepped up her game,” Sharapova said. “I think at different times in a player's career you need that extra motivation, you might need a change. She's been there; she's done that; she's a Grand Slam champion. It wasn't like she needed someone to come in and fix her game. I don't think that was really the plan. But sometimes when you just have a different surrounding and a new voice, they might be saying the same things but it just gets to you a little bit differently and your motivation changes.”
Max’s motivation remains the same as ever: make as much money as possible for every client and try to keep everyone happy. So if you see a bloke in dark glasses, a huge all-enveloping hat, munching Sugarpova lollies, it will be Max. Just don’t tell Sharapova or Li where he’s sitting.