“I’d probably have to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50.”
This was Ronnie O’Sullivan’s damning assessment on the next generation of snooker players as he secured his sixth World Championship crown last week.
O’Sullivan, 44, defeated Thepchaiya Un-Nooh, Ding Junhui, Mark Williams, Mark Selby and Kyren Wilson on his way to the title.
However, it was his criticism of the current standard of young players coming into the sport that attracted just as many headlines as his brilliance on the table.
O’Sullivan, famously nicknamed ‘The Rocket’ made the comments after his second-round victory over China’s Ding Junhui – a win that set up a quarter-final clash with fellow veteran Mark Williams.
When asked whether he was surprised that he and Williams were still among the sport’s best players, 25 years after making their debuts, O’Sullivan responded with typical honesty.
“If you asked me then [if I thought I’d still be at this level], then no,” O’Sullivan told BBC’s Rob Walker. “But if you look at the standard of play then I’d say yes.”
“If you look at the younger players coming through, they’re not that good really. Most of them, they’d probably do well as half-decent amateurs, not even amateurs they’re so bad.
“So that’s really why we’re still hovering around, because of just how poor it is.”
Admittedly, there is substance to O’Sullivan’s remarks.
Not since 2011, when Judd Trump (22) lifted the UK Championship and Ding Junhui (23) emerged victorious at the Masters, has a player aged 28 or younger secured a title at one of the Triple Crown tournaments.
In fact, aside from Kyren Wilson, there hasn’t even been a runner-up below the age of 28.
But are O’Sullivan’s derogatory comments fair?
No one can deny that Ronnie O’Sullivan is a pioneer of snooker.
Club players, amateurs, young pros, seasoned players look up to O’Sullivan; all desperate for just a crumb of the success he’s enjoyed.
He is the most naturally gifted player to ever grace the game. Dare I say it, the greatest of all-time.
However, with greatness comes great responsibility, and O’Sullivan has a duty to serve as an ambassador for the sport.
Criticising the next generation of snooker players is a fundamental failure of this responsibility.
🗣 "I'd probably have to lose an arm and a leg to fall outside the top 50."
Ronnie O'Sullivan isn't impressed with new players coming through on the world tour.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) August 10, 2020
Just take a look at other individual sports such as tennis and golf.
The idea of Serena Williams or Rory McIlroy publicly slating the quality of the next generation in their respective sports is inconceivable.
So why does O’Sullivan feel the need to condemn snooker’s youngsters rather than support and encourage them?
It’s hardly surprising the standard of the tour seems low when O’Sullivan compares it against his own level. After all, he’s the best.
Mark Williams reflected this very sentiment, saying: “There’s no one on the tour that’s as good as him, but it’s unfair to class everyone else in his standards.”
From his position of power in the sport, O’Sullivan should show greater patience and respect to his fellow pros.
Many of the lower-ranked players and youngsters on the circuit don’t have access to the same levels of coaching and have to work hard to make a living from the sport.
While putting in the hard yards is a given to make it to the top in any sport, O’Sullivan should understand the commitment and time needed to consistently challenge the sport’s best players having learned the hard way against the likes of Stephen Hendry and John Higgins.
Branding the next generation of players “so bad” is disrespectful and neither professional nor in the spirit of the game.
Yes, you could argue that his comments carried some truth, but for me, O’Sullivan got this one wrong.