Good luck selling snooker without Ronnie O’Sullivan

Desmond Kane

There have been some glorious choices to be discovered on the box for the unsuspecting viewer over the past few days.

The semi-final stage of Britain's Got Talent last night boasted a team of French stuntmen, a dance troupe, an opera singing duo, a ballroom dancing act and a bloke playing an organ. This is all well and good, but could they make a 92 on a snooker table with the pink and black out of commission, most of the colours buried away from their natural homes and the lovable Willie Thorne baldly predicting that "he'd do well to get above 20 here"? That is true creativity.

Ronnie O'Sullivan's rousing 18-11 win over a largely impotent Ali Carter in the 75th staging of the World Championship snooker final at Sheffield's Crucible Theatre truly was something to behold. The term "world" has a misleading moniker in that this homely but annual 17-day snooker smorgasbord is traditionally a very British preserve that is scattered with a few geezers here and there from the former territories of Canada, Australia and these days the Far East. China's vested interest has changed the landscape of the sport, but the best performers remain firmly rooted in Blighty. Top of the pots by some margin remains the lad from Chigwell in Essex.

In O'Sullivan, Great Britain truly has a great sportsman - has got talent, if you will. Unlike a BGT finalist, 'The Rocket' does not need to teach a dog new tricks. At the venerable snooker age of 36, O'Sullivan is an older dog who does not need to be taught anything about what the endless possibilities are when waving a cue like a magic wand.

O'Sullivan is similar to those snooker scallywags of yesteryear, Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins and Jimmy 'Whirlwind' White, but a whole lot better. Like him or loathe him, and plenty have contrasting views on a figure who uses sports psychologist Doctor Steve Peters to sort out his mental compass, he is arguably the most entertaining British sportsman alive today to watch.

To put things into perspective, Higgins - who O'Sullivan has succeeded as the 'People's Champion' - made seven century breaks in 14 appearances at the Crucible. O'Sullivan has produced 118 in 20, including three maximums.

I spoke to White earlier this year and he told me O'Sullivan had "six or seven" world titles in him. After such a resounding win, the most straightforward of his four - the others came in 2001, 2004 and 2008 - such predictions show Jimmy hadn't been knocking back the Sambuca chasers during his bout of fortune telling.

The record books show that Stephen Hendry, with seven, and Steve Davis and Ray Reardon, with six apiece, have won more world titles - but none of those celebrated figures could come near to O'Sullivan for style and the seemingly endless possibilities for 22 balls on a 12ft x 6ft table. His chum is the artist Damien Hirst, who alongside former BDO world darts champion Martin 'Wolfie' Adams was the most memorable spectator at the Crucible. O'Sullivan is as much an artist at what he does; like Hirst, his exhibition is beautiful in his mind forever.

No snooker player has played the game at such levels. He is to snooker what Federer is to tennis or Messi is to football. A flawed genius perhaps, but a figure who makes his sport something close to an art form.

"Ronnie O'Sullivan, the Mozart of snooker, has just made as magisterially perfect a clearance as I've ever seen. I'm bathed in bliss," tweeted the perceptive snooker lover Stephen Fry after watching O'Sullivan make 92 of a clearance that was as good as Stephen Hendry's 147 on the opening day of the tournament.

In the 1996 World Championship, the French Canadian Alain Robidoux thought O'Sullivan was being disrespectful by playing with his left hand. It turned out he can pot balls with both. He can do whatever he wants, when he is in the mood.

"He's just so far in front of everyone else it's just frightening," said Mark Williams, winner of the world gong in 2000 and 2003, but well beaten by O'Sullivan in the second round. Williams has not savoured a win over O'Sullivan in 10 years. "You've just got to take your hat off to him and admire what he's doing. It was frightening to watch."

O'Sullivan signed off from the tournament by stating his intentions to depart the scene for six months to spend time with his young family. He has intimated to Barry Hearn, the chairman of World Snooker, that he is in no position to play 50 weeks of the year as the game goes global, or at least clamps itself to China.

As the game's star attraction, why should he? Rather than demanding O'Sullivan plays in every tournament on a bustling snooker calendar, the game's authorities should be working to protect its blue-chip asset. He has surely earned the right to sit down and commit to a suitable schedule that will work for everybody. Nobody wants to watch blokes like Rory McLeod or Peter Ebdon taking five minutes to produce a 12 break in trying to grind opponents into the dirt. Those are remnants of another age in snooker.

After Hendry walked away earlier this week, it is in nobody's interests to see O'Sullivan retire from snooker.  The mentally exacting nature of snooker makes it vital he has time off every now and again to recharge the batteries. O'Sullivan remains the face of snooker in the modern era.

The US Masters champion Bubba Watson will miss golf's fifth unofficial major, the Players Championship, to spend a month bonding with his family. In golf, this is accepted as the norm.

A few days ago, one was chatting to the journalist Dave Hendon about the gold dust O'Sullivan sprinkles on snooker. Watching him play is a gift to followers of the game, but his talent is not God given. Dave was quick to point out that there is a misconception over O'Sullivan solely being a natural talent.

O'Sullivan had a full-size table put in his house as a kid by his dad - who seems to have caused much of the confusion in O'Sullivan's adult life when he was banged up for murder before his son's career ignited in the early 1990s. He was released a couple of years ago.

How many other kids have a full-size table in their house? It has been hard work and a good start in life that has helped O'Sullivan make good on his potential, not luck. Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration and all that jazz.

There will be those who will argue that snooker is a game not a sport, but the Olympics-bound golf is hardly a sport if you want to question the amount of athleticisim needed to perform at the optimum level.

If you think of Stephen Lee, think of Craig Stadler in golf. There is no need to be svelte to be potting them off the chandeliers. For the record, O'Sullivan is a fitness fanatic who enjoys running several clicks a day.

The winner of Britain's Got Talent tends to chase a performance in front of the Queen at the Royal Variety show and a £500,000 first prize. O'Sullivan picked up £250,000 for his work in Sheffield, but could easily perform before the Queen.

He is already a member of sporting royalty, a true maverick whose skills on a table will not be fully appreciated until he has gone. One man does not make a sport, but O'Sullivan has carried snooker to new heights. Does snooker need Ronnie O'Sullivan more than he needs snooker? In a word - yes.

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes