The folks at worldsnooker.com are running an interesting poll asking who will win the most ranking titles in their career: Ronnie O’Sullivan or John Higgins.
Almost everyone who has voted as I write this has plumped for Ronnie. This is an interesting conclusion as after 17 years on the circuit it’s currently O’Sullivan 21, Higgins 20.
Certainly Ronnie is ahead on most meaningful stats: tournament wins, maximums and centuries, but these are the two finest players of the last decade and I don’t think there will be much in it when they finally hang up their respective cues.
Which begs the question, how much longer can they continue at the top level?
John is 34 and Ronnie will be in December. Most players start to decline in the mid 30s but many can continue to play to a high standard into their 40s.
O’Sullivan is the most naturally gifted player in snooker history (although as he himself is keen to stress, his success has come from hard work, not simply showing up).
Higgins is the best all round player since Steve Davis. His mix of attack and defence, as we saw at the Crucible this year, is deadly.
Which of these attributes will most likely guarantee longevity?
I suppose it depends on a number of factors. Natural talent endures. You can still see it in the likes of Jimmy White and Tony Drago. However, as players age unforced errors creep into their games and consistency goes out the window.
O’Sullivan gets frustrated now, even when he’s playing unbelievably well, so how is he going to cope when he starts to decline?
Higgins may be revered as a master tactician now but if this side of his game becomes less effective he may find results harder to come by.
But surely the most crucial factor is this: desire. How much longer do Ronnie and John really want to continue?
I suspect I’m in a minority here but I fancy Higgins to pack the game in before O’Sullivan.
If you listened to my podcast interview with him it’s clear it’s something he has thought about. As much as he loves snooker, he is a family man and has his sights set on various off table activities.
If he slips down the rankings, certainly out of the top 16, he may decide enough is enough, though this is a number of years away.
O’Sullivan may be tortured at times by snooker but it is the glue that holds his life together. He has many times threatened to retire or take a break, including after two world title wins. But he first talked of it at the age of 18 and he’s still going strong.
I think he would find it hard to walk away. There will come a time – as for every player – when it will happen but I don’t think it will be any time soon.
O’Sullivan can, I suspect, still win titles when he’s in his 40s. That sort of talent doesn’t just disappear.
For this reason, he will probably finish ahead of Higgins on the all time ranking titles table.
Whatever, both players belong high up on any list of the all time greats.
For all the talk of young up-and-comers, O’Sullivan and Higgins remain the men to beat not just at the moment but for the foreseeable future.