Gennady Ushakov, who acts as agent for NHL star Evgeny Malkin, says he is aware of cases where American colleagues used scams to take money from Russian players, including star player Aleksandr Ovechkin.
Huge contracts, global brand endorsements and thousands of screaming fans – the world’s ice hockey aristocracy really do have it all.
But despite being phenomenally talented individuals, they would have a hard time making such a big global impact without someone pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Gennady Ushakov never expected to become a sports agent, but now he is one of Russia’s trailblazers in the business. He manages such mega-stars as Evgeny Malkin and Sergey Gonchar.
“I became an agent by accident. I lost my job in 1999, and was struggling to make ends meet,” Ushakov said. “An acquaintance of mine called me one day and said he had got word from the New York Rangers that a sports agency was pursuing me. I didn’t jump the gun and let these guys to on pursuing my services. Eventually, the company’s representatives met with me and I took up the job.”
Ushakov is well aware of the trials and tribulations his clients face daily. He himself had a 23-year playing career and before going on to coach Spartak Moscow.
“I’ve got some colleagues who have never played, and they think a hockey background is not necessary to do their job. I tend to disagree, as one must be able to evaluate an athlete’s current level of performance and his potential. That’s what ultimately determines a player’s price,” the agent said.
And while managing Malkin, Gonchar and other big names would be the top entries on Ushakov’s resume, no agent worth his salt would want to miss a budding up-and-coming talent ready to blossom into a star.
“I would say I represent between 40 to 50 players in total, including those born in 1994 and 1995. I try to keep in touch with all my clients and go to their matches if possible. Obviously there’s a conflict of interest frequently, because I can’t attend all my players’ games at the same time,” Ushakov said.
The cut-throat, big-money business can bring out the worst in some agents, with a few going as far as to steal the diamond in the rough from under the noses of rivals.
Ushakov says he experienced those shady dealings first-hand and believes a lack of sporting knowledge is driving his colleagues to underhand tactics.
“One agent blatantly told me that he would take players from me once his current crop of stars retires. This practice is widespread in Russia, while the United States, for instance, has a Code of Conduct which limits such actions. If an athlete is already represented by one agent, no other agent can recruit him,” he said.
However, Ushakov claims he knows a few American agents who have found ways to cheat players out of their hard-earned cash.
“I’ve never heard of agents taking money from players in Russia, but it’s happened in the States before. I know that Andrey Kostitsyn fell victim to such a scam and they also tried to trick Aleksander Ovechkin and Aleksander Radulov. Since parents are the ones who often choose their child’s agents for the future, they should make inquiries about every agent,” Ushakov explained.
The players themselves, though, are a much tighter-knit group and help each other out when the going gets tough – Malkin being among those benefiting from a smooth NHL transition by teaming up with Gonchar.
“Malkin had an easier time adjusting because Gonchar was already on the team. Max Talbot and Sidney Crosby were also our clients playing in Pittsburgh at the time. Malkin moved into Sergey’s house and stayed there for three and a half years. So Gonchar was like a big brother to Evgeny for a while. He paid the bills, helped him set up a bank account, among other things,” he said.
Seeing your favorite athlete on a list of the richest people in their sport, on the cover of a new magazine or endorsing a product are all results of a good agent’s work.
But men like Ushakov also clearly have the ability to become great advisors to their clients, while allowing the players to blossom in their respective leagues.