Ronnie O’Sullivan – Image credit: Getty Images
In a wide-ranging discussion about his life off the table during a storied career, Ronnie O’Sullivan has told Eurosport he will retire at the age of 50.
In a frank and honest discussion, O’Sullivan spoke about how his life spiralled in the 1990s following his incredible ascent to fame as a teenager, and the imprisonment of his father, before a spell in rehab proved a turning point in his career. The five-time world champion also talked about the roles played by his mentors Ray Reardon and Steve Peters in cementing him as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
O’Sullivan went on to examine why a reduced schedule didn’t work for him in 2019-20 and how he will change next season by not practicing and instead “play every tournament”. He also revealed why he will retire in five years time…
We have selected some of the best extracts below, but you can listen to the podcast for the full episode.
RONNIE ON HIS PRIVATE LIFE IN THE 1990s
I was just partying a bit too much and like I said when I won that tournament (in 1993) I thought I’d made it. I’d come into a bit of money, I had a nice house, a nice car, I was single. So, I could do what I want when I liked really. I just probably chose the wrong company but it just got hold of me really. I took my eye off the ball. I wasn’t really focused on snooker and I wasted probably five years of my career just messing about really.
THE ‘LIGHTBULB MOMENT’ WHEN HE KNEW IT HAD TO CHANGE
I think after I lost to Stephen Hendry in 1996, and I was quite overweight as well. I was eating and drinking quite a lot. I was looking at a picture of myself and it dawned on me, and I thought, ‘I need to get myself fit again’. So, I spent three months, I lost my driving licence, so I spent three months just going to the gym two or three times a day, eating really well and got myself in good shape for the next season. And then I managed to win four of five tournaments actually, which was great. But then I went back to drinking and partying again. So for the next two years I wasn’t as bad as I was before but I was still doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing. So, that’s why I decided that I had to go to The Priory. Basically, first thing in the morning I was getting up, having a drink, having a joint just to function through the day. Which never felt good because I thought ‘I don’t want to have to rely on this sort of stuff’ but it just a hold of me a bit too much and that’s when I decided to get help for it.
ON GOING TO THE PRIORY
I just rang up the drugs helpline and said, ‘I’ve got some problems and I need to get some help, I think I know what it is, and I’d like some help.’ She said fine, so she came round the house and spoke to me and within two hours of meeting her she had me in The Priory in Roehampton. That was probably the best thing I’ve ever done. I didn’t want to go, I was scared. I thought ‘I’m not an addict, I’m not an alcoholic, I’ve just got to learn to just control it a bit’. And when I went in there and they said it was complete abstinence it was like ‘What? There’s no way I’ll be able to do that.’ But, I managed to get clean and sober. I haven’t stayed clean and sober the whole time but I don’t go out and have one or two drinks, I have a glass every six months if it’s a birthday party or New Year’s Eve thing. Otherwise I’m teetotal really.
HOW HIS CAREER WOULD HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT WITH HIS DAD AROUND
I think it would have been a lot different. I think I would have won the World Championships a lot earlier. I think I would have won plenty more tournaments. Absolutely 100% it would have been different but it was what it was and it was just unfortunate. It was unfortunate for me and unfortunate for him and things could have been so much better really. I certainly would have enjoyed my career a lot more having him around than not having him around.
RONNIE ON HOW RAY REARDON CHANGED HIS GAME
My dad made the phone call to somebody. I don’t know who he called. But he said, ‘Ronnie could do with a little bit of someone with a bit of experience in his corner. Who would you recommend?’ They mentioned a few names then said the one you really want to get hold of would be Ray Reardon. So we said, ‘Can you get his number for me?’ and he said ‘yeah, no problem.’ So we got Ray’s number and my dad phoned him up and he had a chat to him and said, ‘Would you want to help my son?’ And he went ‘Yeah, love to! No problem.’ So he got off the phone to Ray Reardon and phoned me up and ‘here, I’ve got Ray Reardon’s number, he’s waiting for you to call him.’ This was halfway through a match, I was playing Andy Hicks at the time, and I think I was 9-7 down in the final session. I had a phone call from Ray and I said ‘Ray, I’m playing well but I’m 9-7 down.’ He went, ‘he’s not scared of you, that’s why.’ I was like ‘really?’ And he said, ‘No, he’s not scared of you, no, no, no. Just keep him tight, keep tight, don’t go for them ones where you leave them easy.’ So I thought ‘alright’ and I tightened up a little bit and I won the match quite easily, about 13-10 or 13-11. But it felt different, it felt a different way of playing. I felt in control. I got more mistakes out of my opponents. So, that was my first lesson with Ray, over the phone. Then, the next day he was in Sheffield so we really got to work on the table. And then from that moment onwards I was a different player, a completely different player, and all for the better as well.
RONNIE ON STEVE PETERS
Again, that was through one of my managers at the time. He knew me better than anyone at the time and he knew that I was having these stage frights if you like. I was OK practicing but as soon as a tournament came up I was so overly anxious that I would end up worrying myself so much that I wouldn’t be able to pot a ball when I get there, and I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy it. And he read this article about this guy that Steve Peters was working with and thought that it sounds just like Ronnie and Ronnie could do with some help form this guy. So I got in touch with Steve Peters and he agreed to meet me, we went up to his house. I think I spent about an hour with him for the first session and after about 10 or 15 minutes I thought ‘this geezer’s different’ and he grabbed my attention. I thought ‘I want to see what this guy’s got to offer.’ So, I did what he said for a year or two years. I really studied hard on the model, tried to get my emotions under check which I did and I had become a different player. So in the same way that Ray changed me, Steve changed me in my mental approach. So by then, I probably felt I’d got to…I’d covered all my weaknesses if you like.
RONNIE ON REDUCING HIS SCHEDULE
I think it backfired on me this year because in previous years when I did play I either won the event or at least got to the finals. So, I was getting a lot of ranking points and that was keeping me up the rankings – I got to number one towards the end of last year, that’s with playing half the tournaments some of the other players were playing. But, you need to win tournaments to do that and this year I haven’t. I’ve made finals, played two semis, made two quarters, two last-16s. So, it hasn’t been a bad season but I haven’t played enough and obviously I’ve struggled – I think I was about 18 on the one-year list. So, next year I think I won’t practice and I’ll just play probably every tournament and use that as my practice. So, when I come home I don’t play, spend time at home and do some of my other bits and pieces that I enjoy to do, like a bit of property and stuff, because I don’t want to be a slave to the game. But then I think if I’m going to play 90 or 100 days a year, I might as well play 70 or 80 matches and just use the matches as my practice. And if you lose great you have a few days at home and just try out doing it differently and seeing what I get because last year was a disaster. And I was missing so many tournaments that when I did some back to play I felt like I was well off the pace and that isn’t a nice feeling either.
RONNIE ON RETIREMENT
I think I’ll give it one good crack maybe next year or the year after I might play some more and then by the time I’m 50 call it a day. At some point, I can’t go on forever. It would look stupid keeping playing and playing. I love doing the exhibitions and stuff like that but if I can get another four or five years out of my snooker career that’s great. Obviously I’d like to do the exhibitions but then look to do stuff away from snooker.
I can only recommend that you listen to the full podcast, instead of just reading the article, because there is a bit more to it than what’s written. It’s a very positive interview and Andy remarked that Ronnie seems to be in a good place mentally, whilst a lot of people struggle with the lockdown. Andy knows Ronnie very well; as children, they were going to the same school and became friends. Andy is a decent amateur snooker player himself. In a way, he’s the ideal interviewer for Ronnie, who trusts him, knowing that he won’t distort what he’s telling him in order to create “stories” that sell.
Here is part of the vodcast …
Ronnie will turn 45 in December, so that’s him planning to play for another five years. A lot can happen in five years…
Yesterday’s Crucible Gold was about Steve Davis.
Steve’s emotion after winning in 1981 remains endearing and infectious even after nearly forty years. The 1984 final finish is still tense and enthralling, as well. People who never saw Davis play as a young man may think that he was mainly a defensive player, but he actually was very positive in his shot selection, without being reckless. And when in 2011, he defeated John Higgins, the defending Champion, in the last 16, Steve was slower, but he was still going for his shots. I think the finish of that match, should have been included in this “Crucible Gold”.