Why Ronnie O’Sullivan Has a Point About Young Snooker Players

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Ronnie O’Sullivan is widely regarded as the modern era’s snooker genius. The Rocket has done it all in his stellar career on the green baize and when he talks, the sport and its fans listen.

However, O’Sullivan has been less than complimentary about the future of snooker in his recent comments. “If you look at the younger players coming through, they’re not that good really,” he told the BBC during the World Snooker Championship.

The Rocket added the further soundbite that standards were so poor that he would have to “lose an arm and a leg to fall out of the top 50”. Other senior figures in the sport have hit back at O’Sullivan over his latest outburst, labelling what he said as derogatory and disrespectful.

Judging others by the exceptional standards Rocket Ronnie has set is hardly fair. The so-called Class of 92 (borrowing from Manchester United in football) of O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and John Higgins have enjoyed remarkable sustained success in snooker, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

A cursory glance at the end of season World Rankings suggests The Rocket may have a point. Becoming a top 16 player is the first goal of any gifted potter, but there are few names under 30 in the upper echelons.

The old guard remain firmly in place. O’Sullivan, Williams and Higgins are all in their mid-40s, and still in and around the top 10. That probably says more about their enduring ability and talent than a lack of it elsewhere, though.

Joining them among the established snooker elite are thirtysomethings Judd Trump, Mark Selby, Neil Robertson, Shaun Murphy, Stephen Maguire and Mark Allen. In amongst this plethora of seasoned pros, only Kyren Wilson on the strength of his Crucible performances comes close to meeting the description of a younger player at 28.

In each of the last five seasons, he has made it to the quarter-finals or better at the World Snooker Championship. While you can find the latest snooker odds in this page, the names prominent in the betting markets are the usual suspects.

Wilson and Chinese youngster Yan Bingtao, who is only 20 and just inside the top 16, look the sport’s best prospects moving forward. What these players need in order to silence critics like O’Sullivan is major success.

Snooker has its Triple Crown of the UK Championship, Masters and World Championship. The sport’s rankings remain heavily skewed by how players get on at the Crucible, but the prestige of the other major events in the calendar cannot be ignored.

While ranking points are not available at the Masters as it is a top 16 and/or invitation only event, only by testing themselves against the aging elite will newer stars emerge. Snooker is not just about knocking balls and big breaks in as O’Sullivan has managed for over 25 years as a pro.

Tactical awareness and keeping their cue action true under pressure are some of the other skills the next generation need to master. The Rocket won’t be around forever, so who will take up his mantle?