Ronnie O’Sullivan’s highlight-reel career: From ‘disrespecting’ rivals to loveable rogue

When Ronnie O’Sullivan has been in the news, you know all is well with the world.

This week has been no different to what now constitutes the norm in the snooker, with ‘The Rocket’ being the most talked about figure on the circuit. And as per usual, the reasoning can be attributed to divisive comments as much as it can the ability of an all-time great.

O’Sullivan had reached the quarter finals of the UK Championship, a major event he has already captured a record seven times, and was asked about the exciting prospect of claiming the title on Sunday, which coincides with his 46th birthday.

“I don’t care – if I win it, great, and if I don’t it will have no impact on my life and what I do. If anything I’d rather be sitting with Jimmy (White), having a laugh,” came the response ahead of his quarter-final against Kyren Wilson.



Ronnie O'Sullivan after beating Noppon Saengkham in the UK Championship on Wednesday
Ronnie O’Sullivan after beating Noppon Saengkham in the UK Championship on Wednesday

At face value, the comments appear a casual, fleeting response. And yet, intriguingly, they amount to a synopsis of the Englishman’s stellar career.

For O’Sullivan’s attitude towards snooker continues to supply fascinating contrast. He’s long portrayed himself to be indifferent towards the game, to be unbothered about results, to detest the lifestyle, and yet his continuing desire to prevail at the top level cannot be fuelled by pay cheques alone.

A record 20 Triple Crown tournament wins, 37 ranking titles, the only player to have notched 1,000 century breaks, not to mention being a six-time world champion – all complimented by a brand of snooker which prompts comparisons with the likes of Alex Higgins and Jimmy White.

Indeed, O’Sullivan possesses a rare quality that few in professional sport can truly associate with. An ability to entertain, to wow crowds, to seamlessly switch game plans in his quest for adrenaline and excitement – and yet do so in tandem with success on the global stage.



O'Sullivan is great friends with Jimmy White, who he has often been compared to
O’Sullivan is great friends with Jimmy White, who he has often been compared to

Take the 1996 World Championship, after he’d built up a comfortable lead over Frenchman Alain Robidoux. O’Sullivan duly decided to prevent boredom by playing the final stages left-handed, an incident deemed disrespectful by snooker purists, but lapped up by fans.

Robidoux wasn’t amused, refusing to shake either of his hands at the conclusion. O’Sullivan didn’t care.

Add to that a tendency to speak without caution, to call out authorities, to reveal what many might think and yet dare not say, and you understand why one of the game’s great talents, doubles up as one of the game’s great personalities.

That’s not to say there haven’t been career flash points, moments where the disciplinary lines have been crossed, and intentions have been questioned.

His rout of Robidoux wasn’t the only media storm he fuelled in that 1996 tournament, also receiving a £20,000 fine and two-year suspended ban for assaulting an assistant press officer.



O'Sullivan's style of play has landed him the nickname 'The Rocket'
O’Sullivan’s style of play has landed him the nickname ‘The Rocket’

After winning the 1998 Irish Masters, he was stripped of his title and prize money when a post-match drug test found evidence of cannabis in his system. To his credit, O’Sullivan has long admitted to suffering from depression, and struggling with drug addiction and alcoholism in his early career – problems he has since sought help for.

In 2010, he initially refused to pot the black and complete a 147 break, and again later on his career, in protest to the feat not being rewarded with additional prize money, and he once conceded a match to old rival Stephen Hendry when 4-1 down, and yet 24-0 up in frame six, without clarifying why.

It should also be noted that not all bizarre tales surrounding O’Sullivan are based on misdemeanours. In 2017, when a female fan evaded security and approached the table, he diffused a potentially volatile situation by allowing her to take a couple of shots on the black with his cue. Controversy, became hilarity.

The above incidents all contribute to the mystique of O’Sullivan, to the notion of this loveable rogue, to a complex character who can’t ever fail to trigger intrigue.

And yet, underpinning it all is a man of undeniable intellect. A self-critic who strives for perfection. An individual who has studied the values of Islam and Buddhism.

He’s written three crime novels in collaboration with author Emlyn Rees, and in 2019 co-authored a fitness book entitled Top of Your Game: Eating for Mind and Body. O’Sullivan may often appear unbothered about his place in the top echelon of snooker, but it’s a read that underlines his motivation to remain in it.

Is Ronnie O’Sullivan snooker’s greatest ever player? Let us know in the comments section.



O'Sullivan is a six-time world champion
O’Sullivan is a six-time world champion

Quite often, there is a subtlety to his frankness that many overlook. Recent comments that he would prefer his children to choose F1 or golf over snooker, was more of a dig as to how authorities to run the game, that it was him voicing disdain for the sport.

So the guessing games over O’Sullivan’s persona and future intentions will continue, perhaps the way he likes it, as will the debate over whether he constitutes the best of all time. What is abundantly clear though, is the sport still needs his personality, as much as it does his talent.

It’s a notion he recently championed himself, in his own flagrant style, claiming youngsters in the game were now so bad that he would need to “lose an arm and a leg” to fall out of the top 50.

For all his perceived apathy, you suspect it may take him losing a limb or two to finally retire from the sport that deep down, he probably loves.

Even if he doesn’t want to show it.



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