Ronnie O’Sullivan and darts ace Phil Power should join the GOAT herds - Chris Waters comment

IF ever you want to cause a stir on Twitter, and particularly if you have circa 1.3 million followers, all you have to do is what Henry Winter, chief football writer for The Times, did the other day.

Ronnie O'Sullivan: Lifting the World Snooker Championship trophy at The Crucible, Sheffield. Picture: PA

Winter posted: “My top six greatest English sportsmen ever (no particular order): Bobby Charlton, Lewis Hamilton, Steve Redgrave, Jimmy Anderson, Jonny Wilkinson and Seb Coe. Yours?”

Cue hundreds of replies as every Tom, Dick and Harry had his say, usually to point out why Winter was wrong and why they, instead, were right.

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It was all in good fun – not least when the legendary Twitter figure Sir Fred Boycott retorted: “Boycott, Trueman, Appleyard, Verity, Hutton (L), Close.”

Darts legend: Phil Taylor. Picture: Getty Images

Say no more.

Of course, Sir Fred might just as easily have gone for Hirst, Rhodes, Sutcliffe, Illingworth, Root and Bairstow, to name another six Yorkies off the top of my head, or any number of candidates from God’s own county.

But among the avalanche of names that Winter elicited, far too many to mention, there were a couple of glaring omissions that took the eye.

Most notably, it seemed to me, there was a distinct lack of love for Messrs Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivan and Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, respectively the greatest snooker and darts players the world has seen.

Granted, others may dispute that claim and point to such as Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry and Jimmy White in snooker, and to the likes of Michael van Gerwen, Raymond van Barneveld and Eric Bristow in darts.

But O’Sullivan and Taylor are, in this humble opinion, and in the overwhelming opinion of the majority of their peers, the creme de la creme. They should really be shoo-ins for any such list.

O’Sullivan has long been a favourite of mine.

Forget the baggage that comes with ‘The Rocket’, the torment and tantrums, the wildness and walk-outs, he is, quite frankly, a sporting genius, the living and breathing embodiment of flair.

Snooker is rarely a laughing matter – the sport is played in an atmosphere of sobriety and mostly in silence, which is one of the reasons I like it so much, unless some cretin in the crowd has forgotten to turn off his mobile phone.

But if there is one thing guaranteed to make me laugh out loud when watching sport on television, it is when O’Sullivan switches – seemingly on a whim and with deadpan demeanour – from playing with his predominant right hand to playing with his left. Incredibly, this seems to result in little or no decline in his power.

To put that into context, it would be a bit like James Anderson bowling left-arm and still coming up with 600 Test wickets.

Famously, at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre in 1996, O’Sullivan’s versatility caused a stir when Canadian opponent Alain Robidoux accused him of being disrespectful after he suddenly started to play left-handed with the winning line in view.

Those were the early days of O’Sullivan’s now common and accepted ambidexterity; O’Sullivan memorably hit back on that occasion with the barb: “I’m better left-handed than he (Robidoux) is right-handed.”

But, in all seriousness, has there been a more naturally gifted English sportsman than the 44-year-old enigma from Essex? If so, then his name escapes.

So why does O’Sullivan not get his just desserts in the great sporting debates?

Why does a man who has not even been nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award consistently seem to fly under the radar?

Perhaps it is partly because he is neither politically correct nor universally popular.

O’Sullivan has never been popular in the way that Jimmy White has, for instance, and he possesses a rather petulant streak.

The expression “tortured genius” might have been invented with O’Sullivan in mind, and he is disinclined to mince his words.

Sometimes he gives off the air of a man who would rather be cleaning the public toilets in his home town of Chigwell than playing snooker for a living; he has threatened to quit more often than the average smoker.

Part of what makes O’Sullivan great also makes him grate; he can be all smiles one minute and all grouchy the next.

But there is, too, perhaps a subconscious bias when it comes to choosing lists of the finest sportsmen and in dishing out awards, a perception that snooker and darts, for example, are not really proper sports and that their participants are not so deserving of broader veneration.

There are those who still look down on darts, in particular, as a game played by fat slobs flinging Tungsten around after 15 pints while trying their utmost not to fall over – a somewhat tired and outdated stereotype.

Indeed, when Phil Taylor finished runner-up to Tony McCoy at the 2010 Sports Personality of the Year, in the process beating Sheffield’s Jessica Ennis into third place, the golfer Ian Poulter was quick to speak his mind.

Writing on Twitter, Poulter scoffed: “Darts comes second in the BBC Spoty voting, get a grip.”

Taylor, though, deserved his recognition and he went on to dominate his sport for over two decades, winning 214 professional tournaments in the process, including 16 world titles.

Earlier this year, O’Sullivan won his sixth world title – his 20th in snooker’s Triple Crown Series – and he is the only man to have made 1,000-career centuries, including 15 maximum breaks. Their triumphs and track records speak for themselves.

Last week, O’Sullivan chose his own GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) for a tabloid newspaper, picking seven stars from across the sporting spectrum.

His selections were strikingly tennis-heavy; O’Sullivan opted for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic before going on to select Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Phil Taylor himself.

“To be good at anything, you have got to have that obsessive nature,” O’Sullivan once said, reflecting how much he cares about snooker deep down and, contrary to what some people might think, how hard he works at it too.

“I’ve seen people with more talent than me not make it (a dubious claim, Ronnie, me old china).

“I’ve seen people with no talent win tournaments. Hard work always wins. Talent with hard work and you get your Lionel Messis, Tiger Woods and Serena Williams.”

And, he might have added, you get your Ronnie ‘The Rocket’ O’Sullivans and your Phil ‘The Power’ Taylors – masters of the green baize and oche, respectively.

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