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Following Luca Brecel’s accomplishment, snooker salutes its new entertainer

Photo by Ian Schneider on Unsplash

For years, snooker has relied on O’Sullivan to provide the entertainment. Even now as he approaches 50, O’Sullivan remains the undisputed face of the sport. Inside and outside of the Crucible this year, there were pictures of the seven-time champion of the world everywhere you looked. World Snooker Tour’s media team lined a corridor near the press centre with cuttings from the coverage throughout the tournament: most of them featured O’Sullivan in some format.

Snooker desperately needs a new entertainer and a new character, and everything about Brecel suggests he is the answer. For starters, the 28-year-old is the youngest world champion since Australia’s Neil Robertson, also 28, back in 2010.

Then there is the fact Brecel is covered in tattoos, including one of rapper The Game, the fact he speaks effusively about his desire to party rather than practise; after all, he claimed he spent 15 minutes practising in the three weeks prior to this tournament, opting to play darts instead. He looks, and feels, like something different. Something exciting for the game to embrace.

His attitude and style of play have drawn comparisons to the game’s great mavericks including Alex Higgins and, unsurprisingly, O’Sullivan – who showered praise upon Brecel on social media on Monday evening when he defeated Mark Selby.

“That’s amazing, it’s a huge compliment,” Brecel said of the comparisons. “That’s the way I want to play, I want to be entertaining. I don’t think winning is the most important thing. It’s great to see the crowds enjoying it.”

Belgium has produced world-renowned sporting superstars before, but the fact Brecel can now be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Eddy Merckx and Kim Clijsters as someone who has scaled the mountain in their sport offers hope of a boom for snooker in mainland Europe. Brecel is only the fourth player in modern history from outside the United Kingdom to win the world title and the first from mainland Europe. The Belgian media in Sheffield insisted that the buzz back home suggests an explosion of snooker in the country is imminent.

In truth, a player winning the world title who can at least sit alongside O’Sullivan in terms of wanting to entertain people and put bums on seats will have a far wider reach than one country alone. Brecel, who predicted he’d win the world title when he was 15 years of age and, as such, has never been short of confidence, knows that all too well. “My style can have an impact on the way the game is played, definitely,” he says.

“It’s been an incredible world championship. I’ve played my best stuff here. It’s the style the people want to see. I don’t want to sound cocky, but I think I’m a nice world champion if you like, because I play the game in a very attacking way. It’s not always going to work because I’ll miss shots and leave my opponent easy chances, but if it works it’s fascinating to watch.”

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Brecel’s style has earned him plenty of admirers across the last 17 days. The impact his victory could have has not gone unnoticed among some of the game’s greats, too, with the six-time Crucible champion Steve Davis admitting on Monday evening: “Young players will be looking at that and saying: ‘That’s the way to play, that’s the way to win.’ Don’t hang around, don’t study every shot, see the shot, go for it, trust your first instincts. He’s the first player who has led from the front relentlessly so it could make a difference, maybe the old style is ever so slightly changing.”

Brecel will return to Belgium to a media frenzy and will get a short break before the new snooker season begins in the summer. The hype back home will be felt immediately but, further afield, there could be long-term benefits aplenty from a young, exciting player who goes about his business his own way, very much against the grain, winning snooker’s biggest prize.

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