World number one Ronnie O'Sullivan insists he is not turning his back on snooker by spending months in America playing pool but concedes his new-found passion could end up being his long-term future.
The 29-year-old is often as outspoken as he is talented and made no secret of the fact the current snooker programme, which has been downsized following lost sponsorship deals, was not to his liking.
O'Sullivan has pledged to continue turning up for the major tournaments but has also opted to fill the gaps on the calendar by playing pool across the Atlantic.
And that was a decision he felt had been inevitable given the lack of top-quality snooker now available across the globe.
He said: "I love playing snooker but I wasn't getting enough. I have the opportunity to play in America and that doesn't interfere with the events that I want to play in on the snooker calendar.
"It will enable me to play 12 months of the year instead of seven weeks. It is a new challenge and I must admit it has rejuvenated me.
"I am looking forward to my snooker now because I know that when the snooker is over I have got something to look forward to. Sometimes I never looked forward to playing the snooker so when it was over it was a bit of a relief.
"But then I was doing nothing for three or four months - and when I am left to my own devices I feel unsettled.
"Going to America is a tremendous opportunity and when I am 40 and can't see further than nine feet away snooker will be out of the question because there will be youngsters coming along who will be potting balls for fun.
"But when I am 40 a nine-foot pool table means I can play on until I am 55 so it is all about the bigger picture as well."
O'Sullivan is hoping his snooker skills will not be damaged by lack of use while he is abroad but conceded he would probably have to get used to an unfamiliar feeling while in the States - losing regularly.
He said: "At the moment I am an awful pool player. I have got to get used to heavier balls, different angles from the cushions, things like that.
"Snooker players are perfectionists but in pool you leave yourself with shots you would not dream of taking on the snooker table like potting balls off cushions. There is a diamond system to the table which is simple if you know how to work it. If you don't it isn't.
"That's why snooker players get thrashed by American pool players because it is not as easy as it looks. I think there is more luck involved in pool than snooker but I still think there is a tremendous skill level in pool that goes unseen.
"Once I started playing pool over the last couple of weeks I have realised it is a very difficult game and there is an art to it. If you compare it to snooker, with big holes in pool surely you shouldn't miss but it is not as simple as that. There are a lot more tactics to the game - which I need to learn and that will take time."
World number one Ronnie O'Sullivan has called for a complete shake-up of snooker - starting with the appointment of a ruthless "dictator".
The 29-year-old, who is to play pool in America next year along with snooker tournaments, is convinced only radical change can save the game.
O'Sullivan believes snooker needs a person in control of the sport - along with investment - as they do in Formula One.
He said: "Snooker needs a dictator - a Bernie Ecclestone. Someone to say 'look, you are getting that, you are playing to these rules, you can do this and do that and you will all get loads of money, it will be fun and it will be exciting'.
"But snooker hasn't got that. Snooker has got people saying 'you don't want to do this' or 'you don't want to upset that'."
O'Sullivan believes pool in America has just such a forward-thinking figure in the shape of Kevin Trudeau, the media mogul behind the International Pool Tour.
O'Sullivan, the former world champion, is one of 150 players from across the globe who will be chasing a US$1million prize pot next year.
He said: "He wants to make pool like the Superbowl and I couldn't help but get excited about it. I spoke to a tour director who said they wanted to make pool exciting.
"He said they had noticed in sports that don't go anywhere from top to bottom everyone gets a fair cut and in the sports that are successful the top ones get all the dough and the ones who aren't making it get nothing. And I thought 'there is a different mentality from snooker to pool'.
"Snooker wants to keep 128 players all happy and they want the top players to carry dead meat. In America, if you are a loser and can't cut it you get out of it. Whether that is right or not I don't know but it makes sense."
O'Sullivan insisted the snooker establishment had been guilty of under-achieving for a decade - despite having big-name players to rival any of the previous greats.
He said: "In the last 10 years they haven't made a success of taking the game on to where it could be. Look at darts - darts is starting to overtake snooker.
"I'm a great darts fan but snooker is the greatest sport on earth. The game needs restructuring. We need to ask publicists and business people what is so unattractive about snooker."
World Snooker chairman Sir Rodney Walker has revealed new sponsorship deals are imminent and a sport that suddenly lost Ł3million when tobacco sponsorship was banned made a Ł1million profit last year.
But for O'Sullivan that was not enough.
He said: "When you have a board and people who are trying to keep everyone happy from 128 to number one in the world you are not going to get anywhere.
"Snooker is trapped without anyone saying what needs doing."
O'Sullivan, who will still play in the major snooker tournaments, expects to begin his pool career in America with a January tournament in Orlando, Florida.
(Behold, now it is January – dates from 30th January to 4th February, what fits with Malta Cup, but Ronnie didn’t want to participate in it. But Ronnie is still in player list for November too. See - http://www.internationalpooltour.com/ipt_content/default.asp)
World number two Stephen Hendry says he could follow in the footsteps of Ronnie O'Sullivan and play pool in America.
The seven-time world champion said he could be tempted to play in the USA to fill the gap in the domestic calendar.
"I haven't ruled out playing," said the Scot. "If there are no new events added, why not? You don't want to be sat at home twiddling your fingers."
But he added: "The money would have to be really good for me to go over there and put my reputation on the line."
Snooker's world number Ronnie O'Sullivan has confirmed he intends to carve out a second career in America playing pool.
The 29-year-old will still take part in the four major snooker tournaments but will choose pool over any others that clash with dates in the United States.
And his reason for deciding to spend months abroad was simple - there was not enough top-quality snooker available to keep him happy.
O'Sullivan said: "I'm a snooker player and that is all I have done all my life. I love playing snooker but I have found I'm not playing enough.
"We used to play in 14 or 15 events and there are now six. That makes it tough for everyone involved in snooker.
"So I have decided rather that sit and wait for things to happen I'm going to take the bull by the horns and go elsewhere.
"Going to America doesn't interfere with the events I want to play in on the snooker calendar but obviously there could be a clash if they put on events later on in the year and I have already committed myself to these American pool tournaments.
"If I say I am going to do something then I do it and that is my decision because it will enable me to play 12 months of the year instead of seven weeks.
"I know pool is a different game but it is a great opportunity for me to go out there and have a go."
O'Sullivan, who turned professional when he was just 16, had revealed he felt disenchanted with snooker following his World Championship exit at the quarter-final stage in April.
He had hinted he might turn his back on the game completely for a while but is convinced trying his luck in America, plus a new management deal he has signed with the 110sport company, could bring back the enjoyment into his game.
He admitted: "To be honest I get more of a buzz out of pool at the moment as I find with snooker, if things are not going too well, I'm not really that interested and if things are going really well it becomes quite boring because it is too easy.
"Whereas at pool, whether things are going well or not, I know there are things I need to learn. It is a new challenge and it has rejuvenated me. I am looking forward to my snooker as well now.
"I want to be entertaining and if I have to go to America to be that then fine. I will play in someone's back yard if there is a crowd there."
There was one drawback as far as the pool playing was concerned however - O'Sullivan confidently expected to be thrashed at first.
He said: "I'm an awful pool player. It is completely different from snooker and although it looks simple it isn't unless you know how to work the system.
"That's why snooker players get thrashed by American pool players. There is an art to it and a lot more tactics to the game of pool, which I need to learn. But I have got the time to do that - I have a lot of time.
"It's a commitment but I'm not afraid of that. I know I will have to learn but that's what I did as kid, learn from people who are better than me.
"I know that given time I will be up there challenging, although I might hate it and say in about a year's time "see you later!". But there is good money in it and it is good fun - they have music playing in the background and things like that."
O'Sullivan will take part in the Grand Prix tournament in Preston this week and also in the UK championships, the Masters and the World Championships plus a number of lower-profile events.
His new deal with 110sport sees him rejoin a company he left acrimoniously four years ago when they were known as Cuemasters.
O'Sullivan admitted: "We parted company for certain reasons but a lot of that was my own fault. My own greed got the better of me. At the time I took the big chunk of dough. I made a mistake but I was just thinking of myself."
The hook-up with 110sport sees him join the same stable as Stephen Hendry and become part of a six-figure sponsorship deal with mineral water company Highland Spring which will guarantee O'Sullivan a greater return than taking part in many of the tournaments he will now miss because of his pool commitments.
Thursday 15th September 2005
Ronnie O'Sullivan has confirmed his intention to take in the pool circuit this season, with the Essex star ready to put his American ambitions ahead of snooker.
O'Sullivan has backtracked on his decision to take a year away from snooker by signing up for the majority of this season's ranking tournaments, but he says he will sidestep the lower-profile events in favour of his American ambitions.
The Rocket kicks off his snooker season in Plymouth on Thursday when he tackles Stephen Hendry in the Betfred Premier League, live on Sky Sports, but he is looking forward to a new challenge in November.
"I would give pool tournaments in the USA priority over those smaller events if there was a dates clash," he told the Daily Express.
"I won't be going to China and maybe not the smaller events like the Welsh Open and the Irish Masters, if that's on the calendar again.
"I don't anticipate any problems with the snooker authorities. No-one can force you to play in a tournament.
"If it came to it, I'd say, `all right then, I won't play in any of the BBC events, any of the Sky events, I'll hand my contract in and go off to America to play pool for a year'.
"I'd have enough ranking points to stay in the top 16. But I don't want a confrontation, I want the authorities to bear with me."
The 29-year-old is looking forward to the challenges that lie in wait on the other side of the Atlantic.
"My first pool tournament should be in Orlando in November," he added. "It's a whole new challenge and I'll get no favours while I'm learning.
"Who I am and what I've done in snooker won't matter."
"I need that competitive edge. I've been thinking about turning my hand to pool for a while. No one will know me over there and I'll no doubt get my bum smacked a few times - but I'm game.
"There are also tournaments in places like Las Vegas and who knows? If I like it over there I may live on the road and never come back."