Star made by the 10 wise men

Click to follow
The Independent Online
If Mark Chaloner wins the World Squash Championships - and many people are saying that it is not a matter or if, but when - his victory speech is likely to take quite some time.

It is not that Chaloner, who takes part in the British Open, which starts on Monday at the Cardiff Institute of Sport, is naturally garrulous. But his list of credits ("I would particularly like to thank...") is substantially more than mum and dad. Those who know him well say that Chaloner will certainly give full credit to the 10 wise men.

Chaloner, 23, has shot into squash's elite faster than a Jansher Khan forehand. In 1994, he was rated 53 in the world and only l5th in the United Kingdom. He had a reputation as a talented player but one who seemed unable to handle pressure on key points.

Now he is ninth in the world and the UK's No 2: fitter, stronger and with a killer touch. The secret? A unique (for squash, anyway) support team of coach, psychologist, masseur, marketing consultant, physiotherapist, sports scientist, business adviser, racket sponsor, financial adviser and personal sponsor. He is the star who saw the 10 wise men.

The man who turned Mark Chaloner, squash player, into Mark Chaloner Ltd is his manager and coach, John Milton. "It all started when Mark was 18. I was coaching the Herts juniors at the time. He came to see me and said: `I want to turn professional: what do I do?' I didn't know."

Unfettered by traditional thinking, Milton talked to lots of people, from Steve Ovett's coach, Harry Wilson, to the former squash world champion Jonah Barrington. But his real inspiration came from football. "I realised it is basically business. However talented a person, he can't manage every aspect. You have to find the right person, someone with special skills but in tune with you." Basic stuff, perhaps, but for squash it was revolutionary.

Milton sought four key people: a psychologist; a physio; a masseur; and a scientist. It took nearly four years to find the right combination. Now the formula has added extra ingredients. Milton has reinforced the team and set up Prospects Squash Management, which aims to give the same specialist approach to other rising stars.

It is a business, and the players are the product. "For example, we set targets for Mark to achieve. And like any business, everything doesn't always go right. He had some good results between 18 and 22, but never really showed the kind of form consistently that he has achieved in the past 12 months."

At one stage, Chaloner came close to giving up, but as Milton moulded his team together, his theory turned into practice. Chaloner suddenly came good. He won the British Under-23 Championships in 1994, and has not looked back. "There are aspects of his game that he needs to work on, but I am certain that he will apply himself to them and he has the willpower to get through," Milton said.

It might appear that sports psychologist Alfred Jones, from Horsham, Surrey, had finished his work now that Mark has overcome his own mental barriers. Under his influence, Chaloner has risen from 87th in the world to ninth. But Jones says a new set of challenges face their protege. "The difference between a very good player and a champion is that the champion wins when he is not playing well."

Many potentially great players do not succeed because external problems, mainly money, affect their concentration worse than someone with hiccups at a snooker final. Milton has surrounded Chaloner with people to remove these worries.

For example, Grays supplies his equipment while ICL gives him support on travelling, a retainer and an achievement bonus. Norman Elliott, the director of finance for ICL Sorbus Europe, first saw Chaloner as a junior player in the Herts League. "It was clear he was going places, but just as important to us was the way he handled himself. He was the sort of person we wanted to be associated with."

These sentiments are echoed by Richard Gray, marketing manager for Grays of Cambridge. "Mark plays a key role in adapting our range of rackets."

Chaloner could earn as much as pounds 50,000 this year if he continues to progress. That may be shoelace sponsorship for tennis professionals but it is pretty good money for a squash player.

A financial adviser, Ray Milsted, is guiding him through these years of relative poverty (Chaloner earned less than pounds 18,000 last year), but ensuring the money is wisely invested if he joins the big earners and, with a relatively short earning span, it is important that Chaloner's potential is maximised. That is the job of management consultant Andy Mawson. Marketing Mark, meanwhile, is down to Mike Osborne.

Ed Winter, who is responsible for exercise physiology at Bedford University, assesses Chaloner's strengths and weaknesses about four times a year. "He is young and still developing, but his prospects are excellent." Both physio Mike Varney and the final team member, masseur Peter King, concur. "There are much bigger guys that I treat who can't take treatment at the depth Mark likes me to work. I can see him coming on in leaps and bounds," King says.

A gimmick, or a professional approach to a sport renowned for its amateur approach? Milton says: "Squash is a very insular sport. It doesn't look outside itself enough. Some of the world's top 10 players are not earning what Mark is getting. But this it only the start."