As UK viewers will know, during the BBC coverage of the World Championship final last week, their experts looked back at predictions that they made during the 2004 Championship as they tried to predict how the top eight in the rankings would look in 2009. As part of the feature they also had a look five years into the future once again and for a bit of fun, so will I…
The current top eight is as follows, age in brackets:
1) Ronnie O’Sullivan (33)
2) Stephen Maguire (28)
3) Shaun Murphy (26)
4) John Higgins (34)
5) Ali Carter (29)
6) Ryan Day (29)
7) Mark Selby (25)
8 ) Marco Fu (31)
My 2014 top eight looks like this:
1) Mark Allen (28)
2) Shaun Murphy (31)
3) Ding Junhui (27)
4) Neil Robertson (32)
5) Mark Selby (30)
6) Stephen Maguire (33)
7) Ronnie O’Sullivan (38)
8 ) Judd Trump (24)
So now to explain my choices.
A rising star for sure – Judd Trump
At number eight I’ve gone for Judd Trump, an obvious star of the future and a player who I expect to progress nicely following the big match experience he will gain during his Premier League debut next season. Why have I not got him higher? Largely because of the strength of opposition who will be at or around their peak towards that time. Judd will still only be 24 years old and while I expect him to have won titles by then, perhaps it will still be a couple of years too soon for him. I would not be surprised to see him a little higher but I suspect that the top four might be just out of reach.
Next up and perhaps slightly controversially is the current world number one Ronnie O’Sullivan who by then will be 38 years old and heading into the twilight of his career. Looking back at the ranking lists from past seasons it is clear that it takes a very talented player to still be around the top eight approaching 40, see the likes of Hendry, Davis, Doherty and Ebdon for recent examples. O’Sullivan is of course a player who fits into that category and if he is still playing, will surely be good enough to win enough matches to still be there. But that is the big question, will he still be playing? I was half-tempted to leave him out altogether because of the danger that he might hang up his cue by then, but I expect he will still just about be around in 2014, even if he cannot play consistently will enough to be ranked at the very top.
Mark Selby – a strong candidate to win at least one world title by 2014
Occupying the next three places I have Stephen Maguire, Mark Selby and Neil Robertson, three players of a similar ages who at present have all won a few big titles and have all reached World Championship semi-finals, without yet having gone on to win one. Though Maguire in particular might just have gone past his peak by then, the three of them are very strong players and I would expect them to be there or thereabouts.
In third, perhaps surprisingly I have Ding Junhui, a player who is currently ranked at number 13 and will start the 2009/10 ranked outside of the top 16 on the provisional list. We all know how good Ding can be at his best however and sooner or later I do expect him to recover and show the form that took him to those three ranking event titles as a teenager. This year at the Crucible I definitely saw positive signs not only with his game, but with his attitude and if he can take this into next season and begin to resdiscover the winning habit, then who knows what he can achieve in the future. At 27 years old as he will be in 2014, he should be at his peak…
Next up I have Shaun Murphy, a player who already has one World Championship title under his belt and could easily have added a second this year. Having spent three seasons now ranked at number three in the list, he has shown that he can perform at a consistent level and as he enters what in theory should be the peak years of his career, he has the potential to add a number of trophies to his collection.
My only reservation about him however is that although he is very consistent, he seems to struggle to convert semi-final/final places into titles and when it comes to the really big matches against the top players, for me he appears to fall short more often that not. I might be being harsh here but to have only won two ranking event titles during the past four seasons is slightly disappointing and his head to head records against the likes of O’Sullivan and Higgins do not read well. As a result I would not have him as my future number one right now, but he has the consistency to be right up there.
Mark Allen – my rather daring tip for the top
And finally at the top of my list I have gone for Mark Allen, a surprising choice maybe given his lack of silverware to date and the calibre of the players just behind him. As regular readers will know however, I do think that he has a bit of star quality about him and I expect him to win titles sooner rather than later, leaving him well placed for an assault at top spot in the rankings in 2014 when he should be at the peak of his powers. His game certainly looks strong enough and during the last season or so I believe that his attitude has really improved too and I was very impressed with how he conducted himself during the 2009 World Championship in particular.
Whether it will work out this way for him remains to be seen and he will certainly need to improve on his consistency if he is to reach top spot, but with age and experience I think he has the potential to go all the way.
But what about…
With so many good players around I had to leave some players out, but no doubt many will be shocked as to me leaving out the man who has just captured his third world title and who leads the one-year rankings by nearly 7,000 points!
Yes I have left John Higgins out and I have done this because although I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that he has the class and that he is still good enough to be a top eight player in five years time, at the age of 39 I am not sure whether he will have the dedication to do so. It is well known that he is a family man and having said in the past that snooker is not quite the be all and end all to him, also with his World Series responsibilities perhaps taking up more and more of his time, he is not a player that I can see going on for as long as someone like Steve Davis. We shall see though, I would certainly not be shocked to see him up there, perhaps in the place of O’Sullivan.
John Higgins – one of my more controversial decisions to leave him out
Also omitted from my list are current top eight occupants Ali Carter, Ryan Day and Marco Fu, all good strong players but by then Marco will be 36 and surely on the way down, while Ali and Ryan will be 34. The past shows that to be in the top eight at that age it takes a really top player to do so and as good as they all are, as yet I’d not quite put them in that category.
How about youngsters like Jamie Cope and Liang Wenbo? Stranger things have happened and I am sure that both will be in the top 16 long before 2014, but I expect they will have a tough job trying to crack the top eight. Maybe if Ronnie and John Higgins have retired though…
Could Stephen Hendry still be fighting it out at the age of 45? Again I would not be astounded to see him clinging on to a top 16 place, but I expect that a top eight spot would be beyond even him. Similar story for Mark Williams I would have thought who though being closer to Higgins and O’Sullivan in terms of age, is already struggling so it is hard to see him playing any better five years on.
Luca Brecel – Needs more time
How about someone totally off the radar now? One of the BBC experts suggested Luca Brecel for example. With the way the tour is structured I think that it would be difficult for anyone not already on the tour (let alone the 14-year-old Brecel who cannot get onto the tour for at least two years now), to surge up into the top eight by then. Mark Allen is the perfect example of the best case scenario these days but it took him three full seasons to break into the top sixteen and that is with a lot of things going right for him.
So to conclude, I am going predominantly with experience with a sprinkling of attacking young players thrown in. Who would you go for?