Wednesday, 6 June 2012

This is not the end of Ronnie

A half-hearted attempt at retirement?

That's the conclusion many people jumped to this afternoon as the four-time World Champion Ronnie O'Sullivan announced he will take a break from the sport.

In a statement made through his club and promoters The Grove today, he said: “I have decided not to enter any tournaments for the time being including this year’s Premier League and forthcoming WPBSA ranking events.

“I have not signed the player’s contract as I feel the contract is too onerous and am in a stage of my career where I don’t wish to make this commitment.

“I still want to play snooker and visit those places around the world such as China where snooker is enthusiastically received and adored.

“I hope to remain involved in the sport in some way in the future.”

While these comments make for pretty grim reading for Ronnie's fans at a first glance, I don't believe we've seen the last of him yet.

O'Sullivan has built a reputation throughout his career as a player who continuously flirts with retirement, which in my opinion is a bi-product of a man who experiences fluctuating emotions.

But this time things feel very different. There's no knee-jerk reaction here. Instead, I think Ronnie has thought long and hard about his relationship with snooker and come to a balanced and justified decision.

After 20 years as a professional, I doubt it has come easy.

O'Sullivan isn't the kind of player who has relished the busy schedule designed by Barry Hearn, yet I do still believe he needs snooker in some form. That's what convinces me that he will be back.

Like many other top players, the green baize has been a lifestyle for Ronnie down the years. His life probably wouldn't be complete without it, yet he isn't reliant on the game either.

The reality of the Ronnie's decision is simple. He cannot enter any World Snooker events until he signs the contract, but taking a break from snooker is a luxury Ronnie can afford. As world champion, he's assured seeded status at the major ranking events later in the season should he decide to opt back in.

O'Sullivan knows his decision isn't irreversible and has never been one to tow the line. He's at a stage in his career when he's not chasing the dream. He's achieved more in the sport than many can dream of. If he walked away now, he would go down a legend, boasting a formidable record. But if he did hang up his cue, there would be a deep sense of unfinished business too.

While Ronnie has always striked me as the kind of player who would prefer to retire from snooker rather than see snooker retire him, his performance in Sheffield just over a month ago still proves he still has the ability to be at the very top of his profession, and has so much more to give.

But for now, I can't direct any blame at his decision. The serious demands of today's game would take its toll on anyone but for a man who has ongoing health issues and already sees his time with his children limited, he has to make the decision that will ultimately make him happy.

O'Sullivan can, and probably will, come back later this season.

But losing Ronnie, even if just in the short-term, is a big blow. He still remains the biggest attraction in the sport, sells out venues and gets the game in the press.

No-one is bigger than the sport. Snooker will live on and hopefully we'll see him again before very long firing in all cylinders.

In the meantime, enjoy your break, Ronnie.

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