x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Stars trust their careers to a man called Chubby

He buys horses with Freddie Flintoff, shares helicopter rides with Sir Alex Ferguson and still finds time to pay Darren Clarke's electricity bills. Andrew Chandler talks with Gary Meenaghan.

Chubby Chandler, left, with two of his high-profile golf clients, Rory McIlroy, centre, and Lee Westwood. Chandler says his relationship with the sports stars he manages is based on
Chubby Chandler, left, with two of his high-profile golf clients, Rory McIlroy, centre, and Lee Westwood. Chandler says his relationship with the sports stars he manages is based on "trust and respect".

It's March 1989 and the European Tour's first event to be held in the Middle East, the inaugural Dubai Desert Classic, is at its midway point. Unlike the eventual winner, Mark James, 35-year-old Andrew Chandler, a Yorkshireman of average height and build, has just shot two consecutive 75s and will miss the cut by two strokes. He sighs, resigned, and readies himself to head home to England early.

Twenty-one years later, Chandler regularly returns to Dubai, a city now recognised as arguably the most significant on the Tour. As well as having bulked up physically, he also carries more weight in the sporting world - which is confirmed when he extracts his business card from a clutter of bank notes and purchase receipts: Chubby Chandler Managing Director International Sports Management His moniker originates from the Bolton Old Links where one of the club's members once called out, as they do around those parts, "Ey up, it's chubby chops Chandler". It stuck.

The job title, in contrast, dates back to 1989, when, shortly after the Desert Classic wound up, Chandler lost his Tour card, failed to regain it at qualifying school, and decided to make the most of his reputation as a wheeler-dealer. During his 15-year professional career, he won just one title - the 1984 Sao Paulo Open, then worth £5,000 (Dh29,200) - but acquired a reputation for seeking out deals on hire cars and negotiating hotel room rates.

He viewed this ability as an ideal route back on to the Tour and immediately offered to manage the careers of four of his compatriots, Phil Harrison, Carl Mason, Derrick Cooper and Denis Durnian. "I managed to play golf very averagely, but still stay around for a long time, and because of that I managed to get a few sponsors," he says, relaxing in his seat ahead of the 21st Dubai Desert Classic, which starts tomorrow. "That was the start of me having a slightly commercial head and things progressed from there.

"Within six months, four players became about 15 and then in August 1990, a young Irishman wanted to know whether he should turn pro or not. He looked at me and said: 'I just want to play golf, can you do everything else?' That was Darren Clarke and off we went." 'Everything else', it soon unfolded, was literally everything else: electricity bills, flights, tax redemptions, travel insurance, if Clarke needed something done, International Sports Management had already done it. But by the end of ISM's second year of business, the company, which had started with an overdraft of £10,000, had made a loss of £90,000. Chandler never wavered; he was learning every day and the company was growing in prominence.

Today, ISM has 35 professional sportsmen on its roster, including the Race to Dubai winner Lee Westwood, the three-time major winner Ernie Els and the cricketers Andrew Flintoff and Muttiah Muralitharan. Chandler has every right to be proud, yet the father of two sons - Tom and Romy - is modest in his career assessment. "If you do something for the first time and you see other people doing it soon after, you know you have got it right," he says. "But I don't think we've been particularly pioneers."

Chandler's clients repeatedly pinpoint two key factors to explain ISM's success: trust and respect. "I've been with Chubby for 17 years and I would say he has more of a personal approach with most of his players than other management groups," said Westwood. "We are more friends now than manager and player." Clarke agrees: "Chubby started looking after me as soon as I turned pro and he's now almost my best friend. I have a relationship with him that is based on the shake of a hand not a contract and that, I think, says everything."

Indeed, it was Chandler's relationship with Clarke that took him to Portmarnock Links, near Dublin, in 2004 where he watched a 13-year old from Holywood, County Down, win the Darren Clarke Foundation Boys' Under-15s title. Rory McIlroy completed his two rounds with a score of 148, 15 shots better than his nearest challenger. "Rory definitely had something that no one else there had - and he was definitely the smallest kid in the field, he was tiny," remembers Chandler.

"Darren gave him his mobile number and said to him 'if you ever want any help or advice, ring me'. And after that, as his career developed, I just kept meeting up with him and his dad. "[ISM] promoted the British Masters and it always had a spot open for an amateur, so we got him to the Masters when he was 15. We were always involved and there was no pretension. It was always going to be us because we'd done a good job looking after him and his dad trusted us. My job is all trust and respect."

McIlroy, who turned professional on September 19, 2007, has since had a rapid rise to global prominence. He became the youngest player ever to be ranked among the world's top 50 and, after finishing agonisingly close in the chase for the inaugural Race to Dubai in November, became one of only two 20-year-olds to break into the world top 10. He claimed his maiden Tour title at the Dubai Desert Classic in February of 2009 and has decided to join the US PGA Tour this year.

Chandler does admit to having gone looking for guidance on how to deal with a talent destined for superstardom. The advice came from an unlikely source in the form of Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of McIlroy's favourite football team, Manchester United. "We ended up going to Cheltenham together in a helicopter," recalls Chandler. "I said to him 'You've had guys like Giggs and Beckham, Ronaldo, Rooney and you've obviously not only managed to keep them out the press, but also always had their respect'."

Ferguson's response brought a smile to Chandler's face. "A lot of the stuff Sir Alex said was actually already there, so we didn't need to do anything," he recalls. "He said, firstly you want to try and keep them out of features as much as you can for a while so the hype doesn't get too bad, and secondly, don't let him have any hangers on. And Rory doesn't have any hangers on - although that's not down to me, he doesn't have any hangers on because Rory is Rory. He would see right through somebody very quickly."

McIlroy's decision to play in the US was initially against Chandler's advice, but such is the 20-year-old's determination to succeed he will begin his American adventure at the WGC-Accenture Match Play at Dove Mountain on February 17. With Tiger Woods remaining in self-imposed exile, the attention is expected to centre on the young man with the unruly hair and remarkable ability. As McIlroy's manager, it is not entirely unexpected that Chandler is rubbing his large hands gleefully. With Woods - a client of International Management Group (IMG) - quickly losing sponsorships, who better to become the fresh new face of golf than golf's fresh new face?

"My guess is America will need Rory McIlroy perhaps more than Rory McIlroy will need America," says Chandler. "He will be one of the key, marquee players when he tees it up. And I don't see there being any time constraints because he is so far ahead of the game already. I mean, my thoughts on Rory are that if he finishes this year the same ranking as he ended last year [world No 9], he will have done well. But that definitely won't satisfy him."

Since Woods's marital infidelities have become public, the media have been relentless in their pursuit of the game's top player. And Chandler believes the 34-year-old's managers could have dealt better with the situation. "When he didn't turn up at his own tournament, they should have done something there," he says. "But I've no idea whether he's had his face rearranged or not and without knowing all the facts you can't really pass comment.

"If he was completely in once piece and definitely going to get a divorce there is no reason why he wouldn't come back now, so that is obviously not the case. Either he has something to hide or he is trying to get his marriage back together." ISM is no stranger to the occasional media furore, and there tends to be one man involved: Flintoff. "He turned up at my office with a friend of mine," says Chandler of their first meeting, in 1991. "The friend said: 'His name's Freddie Flintoff, he's 18 years old, he's got huge talent and he'll take some management.' All correct."

The pair soon became close friends, and along with Westwood, recently bought shares in two of Mike de Kock's race horses - Red Rock Canyon and Our Giant. But it has not always been such fun; Flintoff's early rebelliousness resulted in some unsavoury headlines - and headaches that ISM had to deal with. In 2007, Flintoff, following a long night of partying in St Lucia, had to be rescued after falling into the ocean off a small pedal boat. The 'Pedalogate' incident resulted in the strapping all-rounder being sacked as vice-captain and dropped from the England team, but having watched Flintoff return to help win the Ashes last year, Chandler is now able to express amusement at the whole ordeal.

"That was much easier to deal with than Tiger's incident," laughs Chandler, who has since signed several of Flintoff's England teammates to the ISM stable, including Steve Harmison, Marcus Trescothick and Michael Vaughan. "They ridiculed [Freddie] a bit, but he probably asked for it and that's the way he is. He's never going to change. "If you want to make the money that Tiger Woods makes, you have to be aware that you will be scrutinised in everything you do. And Roger Federer is the same, Usain Bolt's the same. That's why you get paid 50 million quid a year, because you are public property. You sign on to become public property."

Chandler insists, however, that money is not the key to ISM's success. After 21 years, the £10,000, four-client company has grown substantially, but has also remained true to its roots. Its founder maintains he does not want to expand because he would be cheating his 25 clients and is adamant player development is more important than profit margins. "We obviously make a decent chunk of money now, but it's not all about how much money you make. If the guys get to where they want to be and we help them do it, we'll be alright," he says, with a smile.

Chandler, enjoying ISM's 21st year in business at the 21st Dubai Desert Classic has 21 clients taking part this week, yet is aware the company's biggest hope for success at the Emirates Club probably lies with McIlroy. Says Chandler: "In terms of pure natural talent, he's out there by himself." McIlroy celebrates his 21st birthday on May 4. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae