It seems to me Ronnie O’Sullivan is like Macbeth. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain what I mean.
Historically, Macbeth was by far Shakespeare’s most popular play. If a theatre was running it then it was a sure sign that they were in financial trouble and desperate for an audience, hence it became regarded as unlucky to even mention its name.
Similarly, journalists hard pressed to get any sort of snooker stories in the newspapers know that they can rely on O’Sullivan’s name and profile for some column inches.
At this week’s launch of the Betfred.com World Championship he was not present. He was going to be invited but such has been his de-motivated demeanour this season that it was felt to be a bad idea.
But this didn’t stop most of the stories being about him. Regardless of his on and off table problems he remains box office, even though most of us have heard it all a million times over. I don’t blame the hacks for this. It was very likely O’Sullivan or nothing for many papers.
Ronnie’s Crucible record is a little like his career in general: the good, the bad and the ugly.
He qualified in his very first season and has not missed a year since. The first real headlines he created at the Crucible were for all the wrong reasons when he assaulted a tournament official in 1996.
He should have been thrown out of the tournament but was allowed to play, beat John Higgins in a 13-12 thriller and lost in the semi-finals to Peter Ebdon.
A year later he looked a new man: slimmed down, full of confidence, he compiled his remarkable 147 break in just five minutes, 20 seconds.
This remains an exhibition of sheer genius. Technically, it was superb and the speed at which it was constructed was testament to O’Sullivan’s instinctive brilliance for the game that no other player has matched.
But he didn’t win the title and indeed saw his contemporaries Higgins and Mark Williams get their hands on the famous old silver trophy before him.
It didn’t help that he found players playing world beating stuff against him: Higgins in the 1998 semis and Stephen Hendry at the same stage a year later. In 2000 he made five centuries in his first round match but still lost 10-9 to David Gray.
Before the 2001 final, in which O’Sullivan would play Higgins, there was a ‘parade of champions’ that – ludicrously – included Jimmy White. O’Sullivan watched his good pal, a six times runner-up, receive his ovation and resolved never to be in that position.
There was some great snooker played in that final. O’Sullivan stood up to everything Higgins threw at him and won 18-14. It was the fulfilment of a snooker destiny.
And then a year later it was more negative press, this time for his ill advised, ungracious verbal attack on Hendry shortly before their semi-final.
2003 saw O’Sullivan make a second Crucible maximum but still lose in the first round to Marco Fu.
By 2004 he was working with Ray Reardon, a master tactician but also someone with the utmost respect for the game of snooker. He instilled some discipline in O’Sullivan. It was noticeable just how much he practised ahead of that year’s championship. At all the tournaments leading into it he seemed to be working on stuff with Reardon and it paid off, he won a second world title.
Always, though, O’Sullivan was walking an uncomfortable tightrope. He loved snooker and yet he hated it. He was tormented by the fact that even playing well did not rid him of his other demons, which were, indeed still are, deep set.
This is why he has so often threatened to retire but never actually gone through with it: snooker is not the answer to his problems but neither is giving up snooker.
In 2005 he lost an infamous quarter-final to Peter Ebdon, whose go-slow tactics precipitated a full scale breakdown in the arena.
A year later he suffered another against Graeme Dott, who resolutely refused to be put off by some bizarre behaviour, including a fixation with tips and some curious mugging to one of the TV cameras.
A third 147 in 2008 led in to a third world title, although he still put a downer on it afterwards by – yet again – raising the prospect of packing in.
Last year he was out-foxed by Mark Selby. This year...who knows?
Barry Hearn, understandably, has told the media that O’Sullivan is not much good to the sport if he’s not trying or can’t be bothered.
But it would be ignorant to assume that O’Sullivan wants to be in this position. I’m sure he’d rather be happy and playing well, but life isn’t like that at the moment and that doesn’t bode well for his 19th Crucible campaign.
Having observed O’Sullivan at close quarters at the Crucible I would say he has consistently been put under far greater pressure than the rest, purely because of his pulling power.
There was one year there where he made an off colour gesture caught on camera. He was wrong to do it but the press coverage suggested he had been guilty of some great crime and he was later accused of behaving badly when he simply hadn’t – leading him to walk out of a post match press conference before it had barely begun, genuinely upset.
It’s easy to say that this is part and parcel of being a sportsman, but there’s enough pressure at the Crucible as it is without having things written about you which aren’t true.
Yes, there have been times when he hasn’t helped himself but also times when he’s been misrepresented. No wonder he sometimes can’t wait to get home, away from the whole circus.
I’m not going to comment on Ronnie’s personal issues. They are private and for him to resolve.
But clearly his focus is not on tournament snooker. He has shown nothing this season to suggest he is going to win a fourth world title.
Will the Crucible inspire him? Many will hope so.
But, as ever, the spotlight will be on him, and now perhaps more than ever he’d rather it shone somewhere else.