Barry Hearn reckons that maverick genius Ronnie O’Sullivan will thank him one day – just as boxer Chris Eubank did in a shock phone call.
The Rocket has been snooker’s biggest box office star for three decades and remains world No1 and joint holder with Stephen Hendry of the record for world titles with seven.
But O’Sullivan’s relationship with both the game and the authorities has often been strained before finding more peace since turning to renowned sports psychiatrist Steve Peters in 2011.
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Though former World Snooker supremo Hearn has always acknowledged O’Sullivan’s unique ability, there have been many public spats that fuelled the player’s reputation as anti-establishment.
Hearn, now a lifetime president of parent organisation Matchroom, often felt compelled to refute allegations and remind O’Sullivan of his ambassadorial responsibilities to the sport.
Despite O’Sullivan’s criticisms of those running the sport and even his fellow pros, he has amassed £13million in prize money alone, and maybe double that in total from the game.
And promoter Hearn, 74, hopes one day O’Sullivan will appreciate that the opportunities offered to him allowed his talent to flourish and thrive.
Eubank was an eccentric, brash and supremely self-confident fighter that rose under Hearn to win world titles at middleweight and super-middleweight.
And Hearn said: “It is so satisfying when a player says thank you. Now I am not expecting Ronnie to join that list now…but when he gets older, he will.
“Because he will look back and be reflective and think, ‘I have had a great life, I was a great player. Why did I have a great life? Because I had opportunity’.
“And that is the one thing about sport that you must never stop delivering for kids to inspire anybody about sport.
“Sometimes it takes time to settle down and find out actually who you are. And I think Ronnie has found out who he is.
“It’s a bit like Steve Davis now. Steve with his music, his Blur concert this summer, Glastonbury…I have never seen someone so happy. He has found where he wants to be.
“And while Ronnie is only one player, he is the most important player. Whilst his decisions might not be in my interest, I actually applaud him for living the life he wants to live.
“As you get older, you get a bit reflective. There is chasing money, profits and success, but I am just as happy going fishing on my own with a can of worms.
“Ronnie is never going to be ‘Mr Normal’, because geniuses aren’t normal. We watch his career and thank him for the value he adds.
“And we hope he appreciates what snooker has done for him as well. That may come later rather than earlier.
“Chris Eubank phoned me up the other day. Out of the blue, from somewhere in the world.
“It sort of went ‘Bazza!’ ‘Hello Chris’. ‘How did you know it was me?’ ‘I just listen to the voice and guess’.
“‘Very smart. I have phoned you up to say thank you’. ‘Oh, that is very kind. What are you thanking me for?’
“I hadn’t spoken with him for some time. ‘I realise now that you made me. I thought I made myself. But analysing the past I have come to the conclusion that you made me. I would like to say thank you very much.
“I said ‘that is very kind of you’. He said ‘Good day’. And he put the phone down.”
“Snooker players as a whole do moan a bit, although that isn’t everyone of course. You would have to break it down player-by-player almost.
“There is no doubt that this Class of 92 with Ronnie, John Higgins and Mark Williams is a phenomenon. It is amazing.
“In sport, I cannot think of hardly anything like it apart from maybe I suppose Nadal, Federer, Djokovic who could argue they have dominated tennis for the last decade or more
“But the snooker players are not really…I don’t think they have really appreciated the fact that their lives have changed through sport as much as other sports that I did with do.
“Darts players are like, ‘we cannot believe this’. But actually monetary-wise and whatever, they are quite similar to the snooker players in terms of it.
“Perhaps it is more of a background thing that they came from. The mining villages. Or industrial areas. Or docks.
“And because they are good at throwing three darts, they are now earning millions of pounds a year. I find that very motivating for me when I get involved in a sport.”
Meanwhile four-time world champion Mark Selby collected his MBE for services to snooker and charity from Princess Anne at Windsor Castle on Tuesday.
Selby, 39, said: "From where I have come from just a young lad playing snooker, I never thought it would come to this. It's quite an emotional day, really.
"It's a very proud moment, and even more special to share it with the family."
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