In today’s world of sports, fans don’t look for a savior so much as they look for a GOAT, a player that checks all their boxes for being dubbed the Greatest of All-Time. In the sport of snooker, fans expect the GOAT to act a certain way and to achieve certain things. The GOAT should take interviews seriously and give responses that are respectful, polished, and filtered. The GOAT should avoid controversy and negative publicity. The GOAT should take every match seriously and try his hardest to win. The GOAT should be excited when he wins and disappointed when he loses. The GOAT should play in most of the events during the year and should always give 100% to every event he plays in. The GOAT should have more tournaments wins in his career than other players and above all, the GOAT should win the most World Snooker Championships (WSCs).
Ronnie O’Sullivan might not check any of those boxes or meet any of those expectations. Yet, there are many people in the sport who consider him to be the GOAT. How can that be? If Ronnie is the GOAT, he’s a bit like Jesus: He’s not the GOAT snooker fans were looking for.
If Ronnie has a defining characteristic, it is a need for autonomy. He needs to feel like he is living life according to his own rules and standards. He needs to decide for himself whether to give serious responses to interview questions or whether to talk instead like a robot or a bushman from Down Under. He needs to decide for himself whether his performance in a match was brilliant or rubbish. He needs to decide for himself whether he wants to give 100% or whether he’s just not in the mood to try his hardest. He needs to set his own tournament schedule to fit his lifestyle, rather than chasing Ranking Points from here to Timbuktu and back every week. And he needs to decide for himself which events he thinks are important and worthy of his time and effort, rather than being told by WorldSnooker or the fans that such and such event is the most important and counts more than any other.
When Ronnie is told that the WSC is the most important event and that every snooker player should want to win the WSC more than any other event, there is a fundamental part of Ronnie’s brain that rebels. He will decide which events are most important to him, thank you very much. He won’t be told by someone else which events he should value the most.
And therein lies the catch for Ronnie and his fans who want him to be considered the GOAT of snooker: Whenever Ronnie thinks about winning the WSC, he also thinks about how he has to conform to external expectations by investing 17 days’ worth of hard work into winning an event that other people think is important but that he has never really enjoyed or cared as much about as other people have. Trying to win the WSC makes Ronnie feel like he’s being bossed or controlled by other people, which is something that Ronnie simply won’t tolerate. He would rather quit and give up than be controlled by someone else.
All of which means that when Ronnie shows up at the WSC, he faces a conflict between wanting to win the event that he is playing in vs. not wanting to conform to the expectations that other people place on him. I think it’s fair to say that, more often than not throughout his career, Ronnie has chosen to avoid conforming even if it meant losing. And Ronnie has been happy making that choice.
Which leaves Ronnie fans in a bit of a quandary. We want him to win WSCs, and we want him to be unanimously considered the GOAT. But he simply refuses to conform to our expectations of what the GOAT should look like, which can leave us frustrated and disappointed.
The bottom line is that if you are going to be a Ronnie fan and if you want to be happy rather than frustrated and disappointed, you need to accept him as he is, rather than expecting him to be something he’s not. He’s never going to care about the WSC as much as everyone else does, and he’s probably never going to win it as many times as Hendry/Davis/Reardon have done. And he’s not going to care about that. You probably shouldn’t care about it, either.
In my opinion, Ronnie is the GOAT. He’s just not the GOAT that many people were looking for.
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