Doyle the man with the plan

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It is a fair bet that whoever wins the Embassy World Snooker Championship, which starts today, that Ian Doyle will have had some part in his life. The chances are he will have played a dominant role.

Consider the facts. If Doyle had done nothing other than nurture Stephen Hendry's talent he would be a Svengali's Svengali in the world of the cue, but he will be saddling seven runners at The Crucible and he usually ends up patting a head in the winner's enclosure. Even if the man most likely to deny Hendry his sixth crown, John Higgins, is a former protege. More of that later.

Doyle, 56, in management terms, has taken over from Barry Hearn as the most powerful man in the sport. He has 12 players under his wing and seven titles have been accrued this season. Hendry has won most with four but Darren Morgan, Nigel Bond and Mark Williams have chipped in with one each. Given that Bond and Hendry contested the world final last time, he appears to have the thing sewn up. "I don't want to sound big-headed," he said, "but we are the best in the business."

That is typical of a self-confidence buoyed by a stream of ideas that flow from his base in Stirling. These include floating his company on the stock market, a snooker circuit proper worth pounds 10m a year by the turn of the century and a seniors tour to give the likes of Ray Reardon, Dennis Taylor and Terry Griffiths a second spell in the spotlight.

All this stems from 15 years ago when Doyle was approached by the powers in Scottish snooker to sponsor the amateur championships. "At that stage snooker in Scotland was an absolute joke," he said. If we regarded ourselves as third rate we were doing rather well. We were worse than that. Our reputation was more how many pints we could down rather than how many frames we could win."

For a man whose house lies just below William Wallace's monument, the patriot within stirred and a circuit was fostered that has since produced Hendry, Higgins and Alan McManus. "The fact that Scotland now has players of this calibre makes me very proud," he says.

Hendry is the brightest of them all and one that Doyle polished. "He had just turned 14, he was 5ft 2in tall but, apart from the fact he was a good player, he had a champion's arrogance even at that young age. I felt the basics were there to take him all the way."

Not without cajoling, however. There was a streak of laziness in the prodigy and, as with every boy of his age, he wanted to play like Jimmy White. Doyle insisted on adjustments that included the relationship with Hendry's then girlfriend and now his wife, Mandy.

Legend has it that Doyle insisted that Hendry jettison her, but it is not one he subscribes to himself. "I can't ever recall asking him specifically to give up Mandy," he said, "but there was no question that their relationship was interfering with his career. It wasn't Mandy's fault, it wasn't Stephen's fault. They were teenagers, I could understand.

"It was a question of getting things in the proper pigeon hole. Re-defining. They stopped seeing each other for a season - it wasn't a year - they got back together and since then nobody could have been more supportive than Mandy. She's been absolutely brilliant. A diamond."

The re-definition was given a kick start when Steve Davis met Hendry over six days in a special challenge, thrashing the teenager comprehensively. "Davis smacked him on the backside night after night and Stephen realised he had to put his life in order if he was going to get on the same planet as Davis. Snooker, very early in Stephen's life, became work. Unfortunately for many, many kids it remains a game.

"Stephen has reached nearly all his goals because he has had discipline, from himself not me. Initially I had to be firm but it wasn't a question of don't do this, don't do that. We've never had massive rows, no. Arguments? We argue all the time. But we have a philosophy, he plays the snooker, I do the business."

Doyle has had his losses, no more so than when Higgins, a gifted youngster who lies next in succession, left the stable two years ago. It is something Doyle feels still - "I feel heartbroken if any of my players leaves" - and one that he tried to overcome with the offer of a contract, that was rejected, two months ago. "Nothing has happened to change my opinion of the boy," Doyle said. "I was hurt when somebody said I don't like him. I thought he was a great kid and I thought he could have evolved into a greater personality than Stephen Hendry.

"When John turned down our recent offer, he said: `The problem is that Stephen Hendry is always going to be No 1 to you'. That was imprinted in my mind. What he doesn't realise is that Arnold Palmer is Mark McCormack's best friend and yet McCormack's IMG manage him and some of the greatest sportsmen in the world.

"Stephen is going to be very, very special to me to the day I die. I make no apologies for that but that doesn't mean John would have been treated second best. Nothing would give me greater pleasure than if John rejoined the fold. He is a magnificent player and possibly a future world champion."

This year? "Whoever wins, he has got to beat Stephen first," Doyle replied. And Bond. And Morgan. And Ken Doherty. It will be a massive surprise if Doyle does not have some involvement in this year's final.