Doherty lambasts O’Sullivan over ‘derogatory’ attack on young rivals
Ronnie O’Sullivan has come under fire from former world champion Ken Doherty over his searing criticism of snooker’s next generation of players.
Five-time champion O’Sullivan, after beating Ding Junhui on Sunday, said his young rivals were so bad he would need to “lose an arm and a leg” to fall out of the top 50.
But the 44-year-old was taken to task by Doherty. “Name another sportsman that would slag off the rest of the tour saying they are not that good,” he said. “The standard is as high as ever. It may be a bit tongue-in-cheek but it is not nice. I think it is derogatory.”
O’Sullivan faces a battle to stay in the World Championship after 45-year-old opponent Mark Williams hit form to build a command“This ing lead in their quarter-final in Sheffield. Welshman Williams, seeking a fourth world title, won five consecutive frames at the Crucible to establish a 6-2 overnight advantage in the best-of-25 quarter-final.
The pair shared the opening four frames, but O’Sullivan was second best on the resumption of play.
Earlier, Kyren Wilson moved into a 5-3 lead over defending champion Judd Trump, before extending his advantage to 10-6 overnight.
Mark Selby led in his quarter-final with Australian Neil Robertson after establishing a 5-3 lead in their first session. In the battle of the qualifiers, Anthony McGill leads Norwegian Kurt Maflin 7-1.
Right on cue, Ronnie O’Sullivan has delivered his customary overview of the state of his own sport. On this occasion, the five-time world champion has been musing about the deficit of emerging talent. Though as is traditional with him, musing might be too delicate a term.
Telling it like it is: Ronnie O’Sullivan did not hold back with some stinging criticism directed at the game’s younger players
“Look at the younger players coming through and they’re not that good really,” the 44-year-old said, after he had reached the World Championship quarterfinals by defeating Ding Junhui on Sunday.
“They’d probably do well as half-decent amateurs. Not even amateurs, they’re so bad. A lot of them you see now you think, cor, I’d probably have to lose an arm and a leg to fall out the top 50.”
It was not the first time O’Sullivan had verbally assaulted the sport from which he has extracted more than £11million in prize money. Actually, he seems to do it annually. Last year, he complained about having to take part in a competition in a leisure centre near Gatwick Airport (“every day in Crawley is a day lost in my life”); in 2018, he threatened to start his own breakaway tour; in 2017, he insisted on speaking in a robotic voice when being interviewed, saying that was how the sport’s governing body wanted its participants to behave, because if they said anything interesting they risked being fined.
So it is that over the years O’Sullivan has morphed into the Roy Keane of the baize, delivering take-no-prisoners assaults on his own sport. It is almost as if his remarks are stage-managed to stimulate headlines.
But, as always with O’Sullivan, this is not mere look-at-me grandstanding. Invariably, there is more than a spark of accuracy in his jibes. His attack on the lack of young players coming through might have been characterised as a belated revenge attack on 24-yearold James Cahill, who knocked him out of the tournament last year, but who was beaten this year in the first qualifying round by a 15-yearold, who then in turn lost in the next round. You can imagine O’Sullivan smirking that this was not exactly the follow-up of a genuine contender.
But the draw for the World Championship quarter-finals does suggest he is right: snooker is not a
As always with O’Sullivan, there was more than a hint of accuracy in his jibes
sport bristling with youthful potential. Sure, the pandemic has reduced the number of Chinese participants, but still this is a line-up that would not have been surprising 10 years ago.
The average age of the eight participants is 35. O’Sullivan himself will be up against 45-yearold Mark Williams. Never mind a young man’s game, this is a tournament in danger of becoming a veterans’ tribute act.
Indeed, World Snooker’s own list of five to watch at the start of this season included two players aged 37 and 38. If players are ever banned from wearing betting company logos on their waistcoats, there are any number of hair dye companies that would be happy to step into the breach.
O’Sullivan’s breezy, throwaway dismissal of the next generation disguises a real problem for his sport. The cue-wielding equivalents of teenage footballers such as Mason Greenwood, Bukayo Saka and Curtis Jones are yet to rack up a maximum break. Nor can the lack of talent coming through be brushed off as a cyclical blip; it is indicative of a serious decline in the sport’s roots. However gripping this year’s championship might be, the sad truth is that fewer young people are dedicating themselves to the table.
Still, there are compensations. Nineteen years on from his first world title, the lack of competition suggests O’Sullivan will be provoking for some time yet. He may be long past veteran status, but the sport’s one box-office star is right: he may well have to lose a couple of limbs before he steps away and stops talking the truth to snooker’s powerbrokers.