NEW SEASON: NEW RONNIE?
Whatever one writes, the accusation of bias is never far away. Compliment O’Sullivan and you are accused of being a cheerleader; make a slight criticism and you are accused of a vendetta.
Despite all this, I shall not be leaving Ronnie out of my new season preview because he is bound to feature in the headlines again.
I just hope it’s for the one thing he fell short on last season: namely playing.
O’Sullivan’s appetite for snooker had clearly waned during the 2010/11 campaign. There were some tournaments he missed and others where he was merely going through the motions.
After considerable prompting from those around him, he took the decision to go and consult with Dr. Steve Peters, a psychiatrist with a history of working with sports stars.
O’Sullivan came to decide this after going to the brink, ringing World Snooker not just to pull out of the World Championship but to retire from the game completely, although it’s fair to say the jury is out as to whether this was just an idle threat or a serious proposition.
I’m not sure Twitter should be used as the benchmark for assessing a person’s character but anyone following O’Sullivan’s tweets will have noticed he seems rather chipper at the moment.
The question is whether he can remain that way when the heat of battle resumes. There is a lot of snooker to come in the next year and it will be interesting to see if O’Sullivan can maintain his enthusiasm for the whole of the campaign.
He is down to 11th in the world rankings, his lowest position for 17 years, but is still obviously capable of winning tournaments and arresting any further slide.
Another season like the one he’s just had and he could be out of the top 16 but he could just as easily end up back in the top four.
However, when the very best start to struggle, when cracks appear in their otherwise invincible auras, other players begin to sense their chance.
It’s happened to other great sportsmen when they’ve started losing unexpectedly – Roger Federer, Phil Taylor and, for different reasons, Tiger Woods. The fear factor in the minds of their rivals starts to dissipate.
O’Sullivan has quite extraordinary charisma. When he walks into a room all eyes invariably turn to him. I think this is something you are born with. No other player has it to quite the same degree.
This presence, and of course his remarkable talent, has more than once done in an opponent before a match has begun, but there were times last season when drawing O’Sullivan in a tournament was seen as a plus.
Can he turn the tide? The simple answer is yes. His two great contemporaries, Mark Williams and John Higgins, occupy the top two positions in the rankings and should be a source of inspiration.
There were parts of O’Sullivan’s game that were clearly below par last season but this was a symptom of not playing as much as the other players. He was rusty and at times it showed.
So don’t write him off yet but O’Sullivan, instinctive not just in his approach to snooker but to life itself, needs to really want it.
At the moment the signs are that he does. Whether he can maintain that mindset for the long snooker year to come, well, we shall see.