BBC interviews Yello director Django Fung
In the recent exclusive interview by BBC Sport, Yello Director Django Fung shared real stories of managing sports superstars.
Django Fung has the biggest names in the snooker world in this client list: Ronnie O’Sullivan, Judd Trump, Neil Robertson, and Luca Brecel. Here are three tips from him on how to be a good athlete manager:
1. “I take care them, financial, legal and personal, 24/7.”
Unlike an agent that you get paid for a sponsorship or other deals, to Django a ‘manager’ is someone who takes full responsibility of the athlete. Career advice aside, it sometimes includes your advice and assistance on financial, legal and personal stuff. For example, Django himself became Ronnie O’Sullivan’s manager and accountant at the same time; he also gave advice to Judd Trump on daily life, say, buying a property or what car to buy.
2. “In management, you make a lot of calls.”
As an athlete manager, you have to have the knowledge, insights and courage to make calls for the athlete. Django recalled arguably the most important call he made for O’Sullivan: he spotted Ronnie’s so-called “stage fright” behaviour before a tournament, so he spent two years persuading Ronnie to work with renowned sports psychiatrist Steve Peters, a call which later proved to be helping Ronnie tremendously in and beyond career.
3. “If you pick the right moment, 99% or 100% of the time they’d listen.”
To Django, his athletes are family, that the relationship is established over the years. There will always be difficult moments of disagreement, but Django’d try to choose the right moment to give his advice. With mutual trust, the athletes should understand that, even if the advice is not comfortable to hear at the time, the manager means well.
Listen Now: bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0ggr870
Presenter: Shabnam Younus-Jewell
What does a manager actually do?
I classify ‘manager’ as a full responsibility of that person – sometimes including financial, legal, and personal as well. But a lot of people look at a person – because they are agent, you know, sometimes they get you a sponsorship deal and you pay a percentage, and they call them manager, but actually I don’t think they are manager. I separate the role as a manager and an agent really clearly.
Most of the time with all the players that I work with, I am their manager. I take care of most of them, you know, financial, legal and personal stuff, 24/7.
What was it like actually managing Ronnie at the time?
I knew Ronnie was unpredictable, but I wasn’t sure how unpredictable he was. We are really good friends, but I think, in management, you make a lot of calls, hopefully all of them are good calls.
For Ronnie, the most important call I make for him was finding him Steve Peters. (So it was you who put him in touch with Steve Peters!) Yeah. After a couple of years with Ronnie, I knew something was stopping him, because he’s such a lovely lad, but once it started getting closer to the tournament, he started behaving strange. And Steve Peters was quite famous at the time; he was the coach for the British Cycling Team, which won many medals at Olympics. I read some of the stuff he did and I thought, “Oh my god, this is Ronnie.” We call it ‘stage fright’, but it’s actually not, it’s just pressure that the sportsmen put on themselves.
And eventually it took me more than two years to convince Ronnie that there’s a psychiatrist that can help – I’ve been sending him all the articles and bits and pieces about Steve Peters, I kept faxing to him and his mother… but been ignored.
At the 2011 China Open, Ronnie exited quite early. He wasn’t happy; he was trying to pull out from the World Championship. I said, “Look, Ron, this is the guy I almost certain that can help you.” Ronnie said okay, and we tried to contact Steve Peters. It took me two or three days trying to ring around in Sheffield University. Eventually I got hold of his PA and made an appointment for Ronnie.
The first meeting between them was unforgettable. They liked each other straight away, and I think Steve Peters actually got Ronnie’s trust immediately, so they started working. I said to Ronnie: give me one year, give Steve a year, and see where you are.
Although Ronnie didn’t play particularly well right away – he lost the 2011 World Championship quarter-final to John Higgins – he kept going to see Steve. He won in the 2012 German Masters, I said, “We don’t count this one.” “Yeah.” “Let’s see if you can do better.” Then he won the 2012 World Championship, and that kickstarted his second phase of his career.
So that was a good call. Ronnie was smart enough to listen and work with Steve. Now he’s seven-time World Champion.
Is that the best achievement for you? Is that the thing you’re most proud of?
Like I said, we managers make a lot of calls, financial as well as career advice. I’d always like to be Barry Hearn or Ian Doyle because how successful they are with Hendry or Davis, but I realised that there’s only one Hendry and one Davis – so, no, I do peak my all with my clients, I call them my clients but we are good friends, we are family. I’ll do anything for them, with Judd for instance, he came to me hasn’t won anything, I had to find him a rented property; when he’s getting more successful, I’d give him advice on which Ferrari he should have, on his second property, and so on.
There were also some other small calls that you’d make, through observations. For example, when Judd’s practising (in daily outfit), I could see he’s cued, but when he’s actually in tournament (in formal attire), his cue was going one-side. I asked, “Why is that?” He said, “Because my Adam’s apple is quite big, I can’t put my cue under there.” I said we’re gonna find a solution for that, because otherwise it might get in the way of your tournament that you’re not cuing how you’d suppose. Therefore – we got internet, we found the cowboy tie, you know, the cord-shaped bowtie that everyone is wearing now? We invented it, into the snooker world. Just little things like that.
I’m a way observant person. I like statistics, so I’d give them feedback about how the match went, not because how bad they play or how good they play, just for statistics wise, like it’s match review. Neil was like world top 8 or top 10, but when you might look for breaks over 50 or 70, he’s only at about 30. So I said to Neil, “If you can improve that break building, I’m sure you’re gonna to be number 1, if not, number 2 in the world.” And Neil took it up as a challenge, we improved it and then he became the World Champion in the game and world no. 1, etc.
These players are big stars, and you’re not afraid to tell them what you think. They must have appreciated you for that.
They do. Sometimes, the truth is not the easiest thing or a pleasant thing to hear at the time, especially when they’re doing their match. But I think, as my career develop, I try to choose the right moment. With Judd, with Ronnie, it’s all about moment. If you pick the right moment, 99% or 100% of the time they’d listen.
How do you do with the difficult moment then? When you’re trying to tell them something, or have a chat with them, and they don’t agree with you. How do you deal with that?
My job is to give my view, and I know that at the end of the day, it’s what I have to do, whether they take it or not is up to them. The players get into know that if I say something, even that’s not comfortable, they know that I mean well. We establish that relationship over the years.
You’re in that position where you can choose your client. What qualities do you look for in a player, to be managed by you?
It’s very difficult. Jack Lisowski, I met him after he just finished cancer, fully recovered and won the PIOS (2009/2010 season), that’s the year he turned pro. I put the white on the table, the blue on the blue spot, and I just gave him a cue and said, “Pot this blue.” I was looking for someone who’s confident, just pick up the cue and chalk, and just pot the blue. And he did exactly that. He wasn’t nervous, he didn’t try to talk or clean the white ball that sort of, he just picked up the cue and smashed the blue. I said (to myself) that would do, we’ll sign him. I didn’t know how good he was etc.
I wasn’t actually looking for anything. I’m looking for someone that is smart, a smart boy, and can play. I think that person can develop his game after that with the correct environment.
What does management give you? Is it a good business investment, a big money business?
It actually gave me self-satisfaction more than anything else. If I needed the money for the lifestyle that I want to live, snooker manager won’t even come close. I had my retail business that I always had, snooker is my hobby. At the moment I’m trying to doing some event management, I bought a company in Hong Kong and we did the Hong Kong Masters last year (2022), which had the record crowd, 9,000 people to watch a snooker final; that’s very, very satisfying to do.