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.


Richie Segal said...

Great article Dave, a point you made on the Stephen Hendry post was that this could be his last game at the Crucible, can the same be said for Ronnie ?

I do expect him to win his first round match ( a good draw when you have a 8-0 record) but with a possible meeting with Shaun Murphy in the next round could this be 19 years and goodbye ???????

Anonymous said...

I really hope ronnie can produce some form in sheffield.What other player makes you rush home from work or keeps you glued to the chair while your dinner goes cold. Like nature his unpredictable and a one off enjoy the purity of his talents and all the constraints that go with it.For his kind are a rarity indeed.

TazMania said...

I think rightly pointed out dave, snooker currently needs the 'macbeth' to produce any sort publicity. Ronnie is a ambassoder of snooker made by fans and the media but I dont think he feels he should be one. It tells a lot about the state of snooker in the uk when people say we need ronnie
(currently out of form and hardly seemed bothered this year)If Ronnie continues to produce bad form and skips events then it is for the best for snooker to create a new ambassoder for the future maybe someone like trump

Anonymous said...

It would be typical ronnie to go and win the title having doing precious little all season.Love him or loathe him,hes snookers biggest box office since the Hurricane and i cant give him higher praise than that.

jamie brannon said...

The reason O'Sullivan is wanted as an ambassador is he is the best player to watch and the sport's most fascinating figure.

Have always got the feeling that some resent that O'Sullivan receives a large proportion of the media coverage.

Dave, if you don't blame the press, does that then make it the fault of the audience who feed this obsession?

Personally, we may have heard many interviews from O'Sullivan over the years but he remains the game's most fascinating figure.

The other players are not all dull, but the majority speak in cliched career talk, which is fine but O'Sullivan's existential attitude makes him a far more distinctive and compelling character.

In 2004 the snooker O'Sullivan produced was the best anyone has played through an entire championship, a view endorsed in Graeme Dott's autobiography.

Anonymous said...

Is there any other sport that wouldn't have handed out a lifetime ban for Ronnie's assault on Mike Ganley in 1996?
Did he sit down and reflect how lucky he was? Not a bit of it. He continued with his misdemeanours with the drug related one meaning at least a 2 year ban in most other sports.
Compare this to how Higgins has reacted to his brush with officialdom. He was grateful to still be playing and boy is he making the most of it.
All of O'Sullivan's attitude is really beyond me. As for this year's World championship I'd say He has 2 chances, none and slim, and Slim's out of town!!!!

Stanli ap Stanli said...

I did a double take when I read Jamie's diatribe and immediately had to check the dictionary definition of existentialism (a philosophical theory or approach which emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will). Note it says responsible agent ....
No one disputes Ronnie's remarkable talent but we should all stop fawning over him and excusing his odious and boorish behaviour. The penalty should fit the crime with any future transgressions (for any player)and the authorities need to man up.

Betty Logan said...

I don't recall him producing anything special until the semi-final, in 2004. Didn't he almost lose to Andy Hicks or was that another year?

Anonymous said...

I have a funny feeling ronnies going too win it this year.Maybe in is own mind people not expecting him to win takes the pressure away.If he brings his A game he,ll be next to impossible to beat.

jamie brannon said...

Andy Hicks was the only player to test him that year, losing 13-11. Aside from that match, O'Sullivan was in rampant mood throughout, dismissing opponents with a splendid mix of heavy scoring, supreme potting and the oft-overlooked department of his game -excellent safety.

In the quarter-final he trounced Anthony Hamilton 13-3, during the opening session he compiled three centuries.

The quality of snooker produced prompted Clive Everton to profoundly declare: "We are watching a genius".

To lose only twelve frames in your final three matches to capture a world title is very special.

I am a passionate supporter of O'Sullivan and will always defend him against accusations that he is bad for the sport and that he trots out all the same stuff in every interview, which is nonsense anyway.

However, the idea that I gloss over his indiscretions like the assault, which Dave was right deserved a ban, is garbage.

I have consistently been critical of O'Sullivan's apathetic attitude to certain matches and his crass attitude regards stuff like his crass behaviour at last year's World Open.

Also, the idea that I think the game revolves around O'Sullivan is wrong. When he exits an event, the snooker remains very much on my television screen and would like to see other players get extra media coverage, although don't subscribe to the view that he is talks about depression, his dad and retirement in every interview.

The dictionary description you quote is right on the money with regards to analysing O'Sullivan, with the excpetion of the responsible bit!

Anonymous said...

Jamie you need to be quiet. Ronnie will never be the player you're trying to describe here.

Anonymous said...

It wouldn't surprise me if O'Sullivan went out and won the title this year, having done nothing all season I bet he relishes being written off by all and sundry. After beating Dale (which he really should), even he should be able to get himself up for a second round match with Murphy and a quarter final with Higgins and beyond.
Also, to rewrite a bit of revisionist history, apart from the semi final (and especially compared to 2001), O'Sullivan's snooker in 2004 was actually pretty ordinary, the difference was Williams, Higgins, Hendry et al were all producing rubbish snooker at the time.


Anonymous said...

ronnie is a spoilt brat who got used to players lying down against him. hes the games best talent without a doubt but also one of the weakest if he doesnt get his own way. i personally think he will win it this year though purely cus his dad will be there. for his ability he has underachieved by a mile. not in the same class as hendry ,davis ,higgins .

Anonymous said...

he should have been banned for a year for asking for oral sex off a young lady at a press conference. thats someones daughter!
people get put on the sex offenders register for similar.
he disgusts me.

Anonymous said...

Ronnie has been putting 2 fingers up to snooker for most of his career. The reaction of the media, other players and even the public by and large is to continually brown nose him. A ban? He's never had even one ranking point deducted. You don't know whether to laugh or cry.

Anonymous said...

Enough with the ban Ronnie talk. Saying something silly at at press conference... really? Does that get people all excited and offended. Just think of him as an idiot and an immature, unlikabale character if you are so easily shocked. Big deal.

Beating someone is another thing. He should have been thrown out in 1996 and fined. If it was of a serious nature he could have taken Ronnie to court.

The marihuana thing was absolutely ridiculous. Because it isn't legal he could get a small fine by the police if he was caught with it. But to say that it should be on a list of performance enhancing drugs is laughable and utterly ridiculous. The world of sports, snooker included, should get off their high horse and deal with actual doping. Not interfere with people's private choice of entertainment, such as a delightful and tasty joint.

Anonymous said...

I'm so over Ronnie. Move on everyone please.

Anonymous said...

How about a discussion on who is the most under achieving player. I'd suggest Ken Docherty. Over to you....

Anonymous said...

people get put on the sex offenders register for comments like that.
yes i am still offended by it!

snooker147 said...

Could it be Ronnie's last Worlds??

Anonymous said...

Oh who cares?!

Anonymous said...

Sex offenders... Well, if people get put on lists for that, the list makers have problems, not the so-called offenders.

kildare cueman said...

Theres not the remotest chance that this will be O'Sullivan's last world championship.

In typical perverse fashion I think he would enjoy dropping down the rankings and making a comeback.

He would thrive on the challenge of being written off, then plough through qualifiers and regain his top 16 spot.

Davis, White, Bond and Harold are all still competing strongly, and with O'Sullivans talent there is no reason why he couldn't play to a high standard into his 50s.

He also has such a good tactical and positional game that he is one of the few players who can win as his long game deteriorates.

TazMania said...

Possibly that explanation from kildare could have rings of truth around it. This is maybe why he is not performing well so he drops down the from the top 16 and then try to win the worlds next year. Ronnie is that type. If he pulls it off certainly he will win more praise and publicity and those who support him will certainly feel he is more than a genius.

Betty Logan said...

I don't think there is a masterplan at work. Obviously his father getting out of the clink has had a huge impact on his life, and I guess it will take a while for him to adjust. It took Matthew Stevens a couple of years to adjust to his father's death, so it could be another year or two before we see Ronnie winning titles again. I very much doubt he'll turn up to the world championship and win it because this isn't an issue of form — if his personal life is still in disarray then I expect we'll see the fall-out on the table. This season is a write-off, but hopefully we'll see his form and focus return over the next season.

Anonymous said...


fortunately you dont make the laws and unfortunately for you, you cant pick and choose what ones suit you, so you go out into a pub and start saying that to people and before long you will end up on the list. like it or not.

jamie brannon said...

I would like the person who described the snooker O'Sullivan played in 2004 as ordinary to see what Anthony Hamilton and Graeme Dott have to say about that. In fact, a look at Frame of Mind would make that claim look silly.

It is such a shame people have to keep bringing up past misdemeaneours to dastigate someone's character.

From the outside, O'Sullivan seems a troubled man but fundamentally a decent person who has trangressed on occasions, some serious, other stuff that depending on your moral code is minor, if that even.

For the record, he won't win it this year as the trunctated season he has inflicted on himself will mean the last 16 is the limit of his acheivements this year.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that Ronnie would be a happier person/player when his father was released from prison. In fact, it has been much the opposite on the table.

Anonymous said...

It is such a shame people have to keep bringing up past misdemeaneours to dastigate someone's character.


its more of a shame that he did them at all, so that they can be brought up

and its very sad that some people like you cant see past his talent and just want to wipe the long list under the carpet, "because its him".

i give credit where its due
i also say it like it is when people do bad things

only people doing bad things get caught doing bad things!

jamie brannon said...

Yes, but there is also things such as forgiveness and rehabilitation.

And, you don't have to judge someone's entire character on the basis of selected few incidents, some of which I believe were glossed over a little by the authorities

Anonymous said...

Jamie, it's very easy to talk about forgivemess and rehabilitation, but O'Sullivan keeps behaving the same way.

And yes, I entirely agree some of his incidents have been glossed over by the authorities, and more than a little.

Anonymous said...

and jamie, 8.32 wasnt me who you were replying to.

i dont think he deserves forgiveness for the reason 8.32 states.

he keeps on saying and doing stupid things!

jamie brannon said...

Yes, but in the grand scheme of the world his recent trangressions are minor. I don't think pulling out of events without notice is good, but it is hardly something to denigrate someone's character over.

The more serious trangressions are way in the past.

Anonymous said...

nobody is saying theyre not well in the past.
for me noshgate was unforgiveable.
you quite clearly fancy him, so turn a blind eye...