Once again Phil Haigh has conducted a great interview, this time with Ronnie about how he sees his future in snooker.
Thank you Phil!
Ronnie O’Sullivan plans to drop off tour in three years and create new events for ageing players
Ronnie O’Sullivan has given himself ‘three or four years maximum’ competing on the main snooker tour, before he plans to create different events for players who are slightly past their peak.
The Rocket is the reigning world champion and remains the sport’s biggest star, but feels his time at the top is coming to an end.
The 45-year-old can clearly still compete at the elite level, as he proved at the Crucible this summer, but he is feeling the strain of the relentless snooker calendar and does not expect to keep up a packed schedule for much longer.
From 16 November to 20 December this year, four tournaments were played without a day between each of them, highlighting just how busy players’ diaries have become.
O’Sullivan says he can’t and won’t keep up with this schedule into his 50s, despite wanting to keep playing the game that he loves, so he has come up with a plan.
The six-time world champion wants to assemble a few players at similar stages of their careers and put together a set of events away from the main tour for ageing greats of the game in a bid to keep the competitive juices flowing.
‘I’ve accepted I’ve got another three or four years maximum of playing top level snooker,’ O’Sullivan told Metro.co.uk.
‘I don’t want to play much longer than that, so the next three years I just want to enjoy with an eye on playing on a tour that is maybe a bit more suited to how much I want to play. So I can compete but I’m not going to be a slave to playing tournament after tournament.
‘I can’t play and compete the way it is at the moment, they’re literally playing every day. It is every day. It doesn’t seem like there’s a separation from one tournament to the next.
‘I would still like to play into my mid-50s, I still think I could make maximums and play to a very high standard, I don’t think I’m going to be able to compete week-in-week-out, physically you just don’t recover.
‘I’ve noticed if I go deep into a tournament now, then for two or three days I’m knackered. I can’t keep up with the younger people, it’s not so much of a physical thing, it’s more of a mental and just an age thing.
‘I suppose at some point there’s going to be a few players in my age bracket feeling the same way. I think Marco Fu has decided to jack it in, staying in Hong Kong. James Wattana too. All very, very good players but it’s an age thing, you just get to an age where the mind says “yeah I can do it” but the body can’t keep up.’
The Seniors Tour is available to players over 40 who are no longer competing at the top end of the main tour, but the Rocket wants to plug a gap between the two.
He recognises it would be for a small group of players, but has plans to make it work for those not willing to go through the rigours of the main tour, but are still too good for the Seniors.
‘Obviously there’s the exhibition circuit that I can always do, but it’s nice to have a platform to play,’ Ronnie explained. ‘A little bit like the Seniors Tour, but I don’t think I’m ready for the Seniors, I’d like to do something a bit in between, where players are still capable of making 147s and playing to a very high standard, but we’re all on a level playing field.
‘So it might be eight or 10 tournaments, something on those lines. It’s for when I’ve finished on the main tour but I still want to play but I’m probably not good enough or young enough to compete on a level playing field with the rest of them.
‘I think it would be unfair to go on the Seniors Tour, but I think there’s a gap in the middle for an 8-man event, 12-man event. Playing against people who are a little bit older but not past their sell-by date and can still play well enough.
‘They just can’t travel, aren’t fit enough or haven’t got the energy or motivation to go from one tournament to the next. It is a young man’s game now, whether you like it or not.
‘I’m not saying the younger players are better, because they’re probably not, you’ve still got a lot of 40-45 year olds playing the best snooker. But it doesn’t become about who’s the best, it becomes about who can outlast each other, who can recover quicker. Obviously a 25-year-old can recover quicker than a 45-year-old.
‘That’s why I say there’s somewhere in the middle with the right amount of playing so you can prepare right and perform to a very, very high level.’
If this plan doesn’t come together, O’Sullivan says retirement is looking likely in three years, despite still wanting to play the game.
‘That would be something I’d look at at some point to hopefully carry on playing snooker and if that’s not possible then I would definitely retire after three years because it’s just impossible for me to do it from a stamina point of view,’ he said.
O’Sullivan would have to recruit some fellow players to remove themselves from the main tour and join his events, something that he recognises will be a difficult process.
He wants to create a competitive structure for a specific set of players, but these players can still earn huge amounts of money on the main tour.
While Ronnie says he is not financially driven, it is not going to be easy to attract professionals away from their home at World Snooker to back his new venture.
‘I can’t speak for the likes of [Mark] Williams and [John] Higgins and I’m not talking about breakaway tours because I’ve already said I’d play for nothing, it’s not like a money thing,’ the world champ said.
‘Obviously if other people were to come on it they wouldn’t play for nothing, but for me it’s not about money, it’s just that I enjoy what I do.
‘I’ve got a hardcore of fans that enjoy watching me play and I feel that I’ve got a duty to them, in a way, to only retire when I feel that it’s the right time to retire.
‘It wouldn’t be a rival tour, because you’ve got the elite 128 players that are competing every day, but for me to prolong my career I’d definitely have to hand in my card, but I’m happy to play for nothing.
‘I know that it wouldn’t be for nothing, I’m sure sponsors and TV and the right management in place, they’d provide all that sort of stuff, all I want to do is play snooker. But I want to enjoy what I do and that’s the key.
‘I definitely think I can possibly get two or three more years as it is, but then after that…I could still compete, I know that, but it would become too much hard work and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it that much. I think the key is to find a happy medium.’
O’Sullivan is playing as much tournament snooker as he has for a number of years, entering nearly every event so far this season, so his drive to play is unquestionably intact.
He has spoken in the past of fear driving him on to compete, the fear of failure and not living up to his own exacting standards, but that is no longer a motivation for him.
The Rocket plays without that pressure on himself anymore, or at least without feeling it as much as he did, and while that allows him to enjoy the game more and be more care-free, he does admit it has taken away some of his killer instinct and a sharpness in his game.
‘I obviously have a lot less to prove, I don’t have anything to prove,’ he said. ‘But I think with that loss of fear…I’ve always said that fear drove me on to want to play well and to put the extra hours in, to devote myself to snooker.
‘When you do that you get such tunnel vision and for the last five years I haven’t had that approach. It’s worked for me, in a way, I’ve been much more relaxed, but I think you get to the point where maybe that intensity isn’t there enough of the time.
‘I don’t know if it’s lack of crowds but I just feel like I’m missing the odd ball I wasn’t missing before. Against 95% of the tour I might get away with it, but against Neil Robertson, Judd Trump and Mark Selby I’m just not going to get away with it against them.
‘Against all the other guys I will and have got away with it but If I’m to compete with them three then I’ve got to erase them errors.’
The “bold” highligths are my doing, as usual.
Ronnie’s statement that it would be unfair to play in the Seniors Tour is neither arrogant, nor contemptuous.
It is certain that, if he did compete in the Seniors tour, it would attract a lot of fans, but on the other hand it might drive a lot of seniors players away from that tour, the amateurs in particular. As it is, the Seniors Tour can’t afford to scrap entry fees. Would they still enter events if they feel they have no chance?
The Seniors Tour has produced, great moments and great stories for the over-40 amateurs: Aaron Canavan, an amateur from Jersey, someone who had only rarely played outside the Channel Islands, became a World Champion, Rodney Goggins from Ireland, played a Final in Goffs, in front of a full house, Michael Judge became UK Champion, beating Jimmy White in the final. The Tour’s motto is “Dare to Dream”. If players like Ronnie, John Higgins or Mark William were to compete in it, in a close future, it would probably kill the dream for many, and they wouldn’t enter as they wouldn’t probably believe that they stand any chance.
It has also offered Greats from the past who are really past it, fantastic opportunities to shine again. Jimmy White struggles to win any match on the Main Tour nowadays, but he is the reigning Seniors Champion, having finally lifted a World trophy at the Crucible last year. Cliff Thorburn won the Seniors Masters at the Crucible, aged 70, and it was an incredibly emotional moment. It mattered so much to Cliff. Their ability may decline, but the competitive spirtit never goes.
Those thing could be destroyed if players like Ronnie, John Higgins or Mark Williams started racking all the trophies. They may no more be at their best, or willing to compete day-in day-out, but they are still far too good for the Seniors Tour in its current form. So, yes, maybe, something in-between would be a good idea and one that could work for everyone.