Eurosport did a long interview with Ronnie, ahead of the coming English Open and they have publised several “teaser pieces” touching on various themes that they discussed with the six times World Champion. Here goes for part 1
Please read with an open mind beyond the headlines and up to the last line before reacting and commenting.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN ‘BAFFLED’ BY ‘EGOS’ OF SNOOKER’S NEXT GEN – ‘THEY BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES A BIT TOO MUCH’
“Some of the people I see on the tour, I wonder how they actually got there. Where do they find them, you know?” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open. “They are very inexperienced, they probably believe in themselves a bit too much for how good they are, and that can be a dangerous thing.“
Ronnie O’Sullivan has explained why he is so ‘baffled’ by the next generation of snooker players arriving in the sport, and believes a lot of the issues stem from ego and a false sense of self-belief.
The 45-year-old, who has six world titles to his name, has long since doubted the credentials of the younger stars emerging without having much experience in the amateur or youth ranks before hitting the professional circuit.
O’Sullivan has admitted that he has not been overly impressed with the crop coming through and has observed that “they probably believe in themselves a bit too much for how good they are“.
“There are a lot of good players, but I think the problem with snooker now is the issue that I see with a lot of players,” O’Sullivan told Eurosport in a special extended interview ahead of the English Open.
“They come in, they haven’t really had an amateur or junior background and they turn professional and the ego kicks in: ‘I’m a professional playing Mark Williams in the first round’, and they’re not really that good.
“With some of these guys, they just turn up now because it’s open to anybody, really. They get peppered for the whole year and it’s very hard to then kind of like squash that ego.
“[Looking back] I think when you’re a kid, week-in, week-out, playing pro-ams, you might be in one week and you got beat the next two or three weeks and your ego was kept in check because you had a respect for the game and the players and the level to play at.
SOME OF THE PEOPLE I SEE ON THE TOUR, I WONDER HOW THEY ACTUALLY GOT THERE. WHERE DO THEY FIND THEM, YOU KNOW?
“They have no experience at amateur or junior level in some instances… honestly, I don’t know. It baffles me. That’s one of the reasons I don’t watch it.
“I do watch a lot of snooker but I don’t watch the modern day snooker because I think years ago, when you were a pro, you had earned the right to be a pro and basically had earned your stripes. Whereas now it’s just open to anybody. So yeah, it’s a tricky one. It is what it is.
“I think me, [Mark] Williams and [John] Higgins, we’re already past our best, you know, physically, mentally, we’re not the players we probably were six, seven, eight, 10, 15 years ago, there’s no chance.
“But what we do have is the experience, the pedigree, the ability to have faith in our ability; we haven’t come from this privileged sort of background, we’ve kind of had to go through the junior, the amateur circuit, we’ve had to be beaten, our egos put into place.
“So that kind of creates a character for a player, if you like, and the character that Williams and Higgins have got has come from a culmination of putting themselves through the hard yards.
“Today, there are a lot of players that are really good players, but they haven’t got that foundation, they haven’t gone through those stages to make them a player that’s going to be around for a long time.
THEY ARE VERY INEXPERIENCED, THEY PROBABLY BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES A BIT TOO MUCH FOR HOW GOOD THEY ARE, AND THAT CAN BE A DANGEROUS THING.
“I’d rather be a player that thinks he’s not as good as he actually is, whereas on the tour now you get a lot of players that think they’re better than they actually are, and that for me is the problem. Because that is a dangerous way of thinking, and you can only get true character if you have experienced all levels of the game and appreciate it.
“So in many ways, I think Higgins and Williams and me are around just because of that pedigree, not because we’re the best or we’re the youngest or the fittest, just that we’ve got a bit more to fall back on in many ways.“
I’m not sure why Ronnie (still) believes that the game is open to anybody, because even if that was the case when he turned pro, it’s no more like that and it hasn’t been like that for a very long time.
Other than that, I think that he’s mainly right in his assesment, but what he fails to do, is to reflect and point out how and why we got to this situation.
The core of the problem is indeed that the amateur game has gone backwards, whilst, at the top, the professional game is stronger than ever. The gap between amateurs and top professionals has widened.
There are many reasons for that and Barry Hearn is partly responsible for creating this situation. Let me explain.
When the “class of 92” turned pro the game was indeed open to anybody able and willing to pay a fee to become a professional. It was however a recent situation, the game was “opened” in 1991. This means that, until 1991, players like Ken Doherty and Peter Ebdon, for instance, were amateurs, despite being better that most of the professionals at the time. The amateur scene was massive, with lots of quality events. Ronnie and Mark Williams have often spoken about how they were playing every week in amateur events, and they were quality events. As juniors, they had the opportunity to play the likes of Doherty, Ebdon, Parrott … and they learned a lot from them.
It’s all diffrent now, and the young amateurs are mainly playing amongst themselves, never or very rarely exposed to the level of the professional game. The best of them dominate that amateur scene and indeed may, and actually often will, develop a perception that they are amongst the best, something that transpires in their quotes, right after earning their first tour card. They are the best, but only in their peers’ group. The professiomal circuit is something else entirely and they are not prepared for it, neither “technically”, nor mentally.
They are not helped by the way the system has been shaped by Barry Hearn. Since the disappearence of the tiered system, there is no progressivity, no development path. All of a sudden, from being serial winners amongst the amateurs, they become serial losers amongst the pros. It’s hard, it hurts, and many – I would even say most – go from being over-confident to being completely dispirited, depressed and feeling worthless. A return to the tiered system is needed, maybe not in all events, but in most.
It doesn’t help them either that they struggle badly financially. The whole “rewarding” system is far too top heavy. I have written this before, and I will write it again here: you need two to play a match of snooker, by playing both players bring value to the tournament, the sponsors, the venue, the broadcaster, WST and the watching fans. They deserve something for their work. They are professionals. At the very minimum, doing their job should not cost them. First round losers should get paid at least enough to cover their basic “professional” expenses.
Barry Hearn also has a responsibilities in the decline of the amateur scene. There are several factors to consider here.
First, when he created the PTCs, that were actually pro-ams, it attracted a lot of amateurs, lured by the prospect of meeting and playing the best in the world, and the possiblity to gain a tour car via this route. As far as I remember, the latter never happened. Playing in those PTCs was not cheap, it was also time consuming. As a result, other pro-ams, some of them with a long history, were disregarded and many disappeared. When the PTCs were ditched, they didn’t re-appear…
Next, Worldsnooker/WST negotiated contracts with top broadcasters, and we have more snooker on our screens than ever. I’m not complaining about that. However, I believe that things went too far when it comes to “exclusive rights”. When a charity event, happening in the middle of the summer, with no pro event on, is asked to stop streaming the one main table because they were not granted permission by Worldsnooker, and participating pros would be in breach of contract… something is not right. When qualifiers for the Seniors tour – that can do with as much exposure it can get – are restricted to stream matches for the same reason something is not right, especially when WST itself has agreed on the right for older lower ranked pros to play in these events. Surely a more reasonable agreement on these issues can be negotiated with broadcasters? Because, in this age of ubiquitous social media, being able to stream is a key factor in any amateur event prospect to succeed and survive.
And finally, on a normal year, the professional calendar is so full, with so little down-time in the summert that pros have neither the time, nor the energy to participate in pro-ams anymore. This renders these pro-ams less attractive, to both the public and the amateur players, but more importantly, it also means that they no more provide the amateurs competing in them the opportunity to pit themselves against pros and learn from that experience.
Don’t get me wrong, Barry Hearn worked wonders for snooker and I’m grateful for it, but not everything he did was right. The only people who are always right are those who do nothing. But when something isn’t right, and problems are identified, changes are needed.
And, one last point that I won’t discuss again here, but will still mention: the main professional qualifying route, the Q-School is inadequate.