“Free Bird” Luca Brecel Says Preparation For Ronnie Clash Couldn’t Be Any Worse

Brecel squares off with fellow former child snooker prodigy Ronnie O'Sullivan on Tuesday
22:01, 24 Apr 2023

Luca Brecel takes on the great Ronnie O’Sullivan on Tuesday as a ‘free bird - loving his crazy life’.

Those are the two tattooed mottos on the hands of the 28-year-old Belgian, who like the Rocket a couple of decades earlier was identified as a child snooker prodigy.

World No1 O’Sullivan, a maverick genius who has often lived ‘La Vida Loca’ himself, is looking to defend his title and chalk up a record eighth Crucible crown to edge clear of Stephen Hendry’s mark.


But world No10 Brecel’s greatest days may still yet be to come. He won the ‘Most Promising Talent’ category at the Belgian Sports Awards as a 15-year-old. The previous year a certain Romelu Lukaku won that same award.

The striker, formerly of Manchester United and now on loan at Inter Milan from Chelsea, is Belgium’s all-time record scorer on 72 goals, and has a World Cup bronze medal.

Brecel, friends with many of the snooker-mad Belgian footballers including Leicester’s Youri Tielemans and ex-Spurs defender Jan Vertonghen, is yet to hit those heights.

There have been three ranking titles, but a run at the World Championship – where he had not won a match before this year – and a crack at O’Sullivan, is next-level stuff.

He has always been on the radar after beating Stephen Hendry 4-1 at 14 in an exhibition in Bruges, and then Ken Doherty and Jimmy White at the same age in the ill-fated World Series.

And a year later there was a match against O’Sullivan and his partisan support at London’s O2 in the raucous and ultimately doomed Power Snooker short-format concept of the game.

He said: “Playing Ronnie when I was just 15 in that tournament was a great experience for me. And that has been very important in my career – playing big games and against big names at a very young age.

“I won the Europeans twice at 14, and played at the Crucible at 17. That is still the record for the youngest to play there, and one I am very proud of. So those put me a step ahead of the rest.

“That record will probably get beaten. Now players can turn pro before 16, you’d think that someone talented might do it.

“I have watched how I played then on video – and I might be even more aggressive now than then, which is incredible. I have more shots.

“I certainly remember the atmosphere in London, it was very loud with fans really shouting for Ronnie. It was the same at the Masters this year when I played him. I’m sure at the Crucible, too.

“I was so sharp at 14, like when I beat Hendry, I was obsessed with snooker and practised so much. I was practically unbeatable in the amateur game.

“I have been lucky enough to meet Lukaku a couple of times. And I know a few of the other Belgium footballers.

“I might get messages of support from Youri Tielemans, Jan Vertonghan, and a few more for the Ronnie match. A lot of them like and follow the snooker.

“Tennis star Kim Clijsters won the main award the year I got mine. I got to speak to her. In fact Belgium is a small world…I play darts with her sister sometimes.

“I do stay up late and play FIFA, sometimes until 6am and then sleep all day. My preparation for this tournament could not have been any worse, believe me.

“I have been staying up all night, partying, playing darts, not practising…so it’s unbelievable to reach the standard I have in the two games. The ex-pro pundits don’t like it when I say I haven’t practised.

“The tattoos on my hands say ‘Free Bird’ which is the way I live and play. And there is ‘La Vida Loca’ which means ‘Crazy Life’ in Spanish…because that’s me too.”

O’Sullivan said: “I believe Luca about the lack of practice - I don’t think he does it all the time.

“I think he is the type of player that can take probably four weeks off and come back within an hour and he is flying. He is one of them players and I am like that.

“You have to get the right balance, and learn when to peak. There is no point playing your best snooker in minor tournaments. You want to be ready for the big tournaments.”

Brecel is 14/1 to win the World Championship with Betfred*

*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change

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