Seven-time world champion Ronnie O’Sullivan is a snooker superstar - despite his protests to the contrary

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The Rocket became a seven-time world champion after winning the 2022 World Snooker Championship on Monday.

Superstardom can be a phenomenon of alchemical precision.

In Ancient Rome, the poet Juvenal once quipped that the only things the ruling classes had to provide were “bread and circuses” so that those beneath them would never revolt. Sporting immortality can require a similarly balanced concoction of ingredients.

You see, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and dull boys - with the possible exception of Adrian Chiles - rarely capture the hearts of a nation.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Equally, charisma without talent will always, always, fade in time. Just ask any given member of Blazin’ Squad. Or Rishi Sunak. Simply put, you will never achieve sporting greatness if you’re not great at the sport to begin with.

Find a way of splicing the two together, however - give the people ruthless proficiency with a dollop of flair, a slice of Warburton’s under the big top, if you will - and that right there is rocket fuel.

Which brings us to a certain Ronald Antonio O’Sullivan.

Thirty years into a dizzying career, the snooker icon is still dominating a sport that lingers on the periphery of the public consciousness like few others. Ranked number one in the world again, as of early April, Ronnie’s list of honours is almost risibly monstrous.

The now seven-time world champion - following his May Bank Holiday Monday win over Judd Trump at the Crucible - boasts more titles than a library bus, has produced 1,160 career centuries, and still holds the Guinness World Record for the fastest maximum break in history - five minutes and eight seconds, in case you were wondering.

It took me longer to write that last sentence.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Away from the table, he has lent his face to video games, written crime thrillers and cookbooks, and even hosted his own TV show on the History channel.

By any metric, O’Sullivan is a giant of the game. But he’s not a superstar. Or, at least, not according to the man himself.

Speaking ahead of winning a seventh world title that brought the 46-year-old level alongside fellow trailblazer Stephen Hendry at the pinnacle of the sport, he insisted that the Scot was an incomparable genius:

“Stephen is an all-time legend for me, the greatest player,” O’Sullivan told the BBC.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“He was the Tiger Woods of snooker. Me, John [Higgins], and Mark [Williams] have all done well, but when he was flying he was a superstar.

“When there’s three of us, we’re not superstars. But when there’s one man dominating the sport like he did, like Tiger Woods, it’s a different level.”

All of this somewhat brings to mind that scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Faced by a baying throng of accidentally-converted fanatics, Graham Chapman’s eponymous Bri hangs from his bedroom window and implores the overzealous mob, begs them even, to leave him alone. They don’t listen.

And that’s where O’Sullivan will continue to find himself, perhaps for the rest of his days. Protest all he wants, but to many he is snooker’s messiah - even if the relevant governing bodies would have you believe that he’s just a very naughty boy.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It all raises an interesting question over the origins and nature of stardom - and its super-charged cousin. Who gets to bestow such an exalted title, and once it is offered, can it be refused?

By its very definition, universal acclaim has to be underpinned by a measure of ubiquity. There are probably scores of waistcoated puritans who would agree with O’Sullivan’s self-deprecation, but there are also hordes of casual observers and green felt sceptics who would recognise him as by far the brightest spark in the Crucible. Pun intended.

David Beckham never lifted the World Cup. Joan Didion never won a Pulitzer. Guy Fieri doesn’t have a Michelin star to his name. Regardless, they had a certain something that elevated them beyond the confines of their fields. They were transcendent, and so is O’Sullivan, whether he admits it or not. Combine that with his superlative prowess, and the actuality is almost undeniable.

To sum things up, let me finish on a short story.

I have a dear, generally pretty grouchy, friend called Rahul. When he moved away to university, he discovered a fondness, and somewhat unexpected talent, for pool - I promise this is not some kind of overly-bloated limerick.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Rahul’s newfound adroitness with a cue was such that he was appointed captain of Sheffield Hallam’s B-team within months. By the time he finished his undergraduate degree, nobody called him Rahul anymore; everyone called him Ronnie.

Now, just let that sink in for a second. Here we have some random kid from a pit village in Durham with no interest in or knowledge of snooker, playing a different sport entirely, who now goes by a completely new name purely because he went back to his accomodation one night with a cue and one his flatmates went, ‘Alright, Ronnie O’Sullivan’. Not Stephen Hendry, not John Parrott, not Jimmy White. Ronnie O’Sullivan.

If that isn’t superstardom, I don’t know what is.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.