The Perfect Player

The debate as to who is the ‘best’ player of all time is one with no definitive answer and one that will rumble on for as long as people are ever playing snooker. Who though would be the perfect player, taking into account various attributes such as potting, break building and tactical ability? Click below for opinions and insight from Joe Johnson, Neal Foulds and Phil Yates…

Back in 2000 the BBC (with a panel including attempted to identify the ‘perfect player’ of all-time based on a number of key attributes as follows:-

Long-time readers may recall that in the early days of Pro Snooker Blog in 2009, I began a series of posts where I attempted to identify the perfect player of 2009 using the same attributes.

Unfortunately at the time I was never able to complete the list, but now with the help of 1986 world champion Joe Johnson, former world number three Neal Foulds and Snooker Scene’s Chief Reporter Phil Yates, I have decided to revisit the concept and invite their views as to who would top the respective categories.

Without further ado then, over to the experts…


Joe Johnson: There is and was so many great potters of this great game of ours, it’s probably the hardest category for me, but I’m going to go for Alex Higgins, simply for the great pots he got when he needed to.

In the most famous break ever witnessed, the semi-final against the Whirlwind, he was a great potter Alex but in that particular match he proved it for all eternity.

Neal Foulds: There was a guy called Cliff Wilson who was probably the best potter that I ever saw and I could never imagine seeing anyone being better than him. He was a relatively old man when I turned pro, he had bad eyes and he used to pot balls all over the place, but I think even Judd Trump has superseded him now with the way that he pots and the audacity of the shots he plays. He has got a phenomenal eye for the game and he plays it with such freedom. If you are a real potter you have to play with a lot of freedom. If you try and play a tighter game you are never going to take these shots on and you are not going to get them.

Phil Yates: Before Judd Trump came along, I thought Mark Williams and Neil Robertson were in a dead heat but Trump’s potting from distance is otherworldly.


JJ: Stephen Hendry. Cant argue with his record which was set well before the PTC’s came into play, I dread to think what it would have been with all the PTC’s and extra tournaments that we have today, surely he would have been the first to make a thousand in tournament play.

NF: Ronnie O’Sullivan is taking break-building to a new level. Obviously for many years Hendry was the king of the break-builders with all of his centuries but Ronnie is definitely catching him up and can turn a bad table into a very lively, clearance table in about four shots. In amongst them he is the most naturally gifted break-builder I’ve seen, it’s just something special to watch.

As good as Hendry was I think that Ronnie now has overtaken him. It’s not so much when the balls are there, it’s when the balls aren’t there and how quickly he can develop them. It’s a great art and there aren’t many players who can do it the way Ronnie can. He can make things happen very quickly. He just plays important shots that other players wouldn’t see.

PY: There are statistics, more statistics and damn lies but you cannot argue with the awesome numbers compiled by Stephen Hendry.


JJ: Steve Davis was a great safety player make no mistake, but out of all the players I played and watched and there were certainly a lot of them, such as Cliff Thorburn, Terry Griffiths, Eddie Charlton, just to name a few, I personally thought Dennis Taylor was the best.

NF: I have gone for John Higgins who for me proved how good his safety was because he won the World Championship in 2011 when I don’t think that he was playing anywhere near at his best. He had a lot on his mind but he managed to win with his slightly-below average game because his safety was so strong that he was always given chances because he could force other players into mistakes. Steve Davis was very good at it, but for me if a player like John Higgins can win the World Championship at something like 80% then it tells me that his safety game is as good as ever.

PY: John Higgins and Rex Williams, outstanding at his best, have to be considered but Steve Davis is the tactical master in that he sees ways to tie up an opponent others do not.


JJ: I would have to go with Shaun Murphy, with Stephen Hendry in a close second, Shaun and his father worked so hard on his technique in the early part of his career and it has certainly paid off now.

NF: It has always been Stephen Lee and I do believe that he has got a good way of hitting the ball also, but Shaun Murphy’s technique is what you would love to have. If you could start playing again with a new cue action, it would be Shaun’s. I think that he has got so much confidence in it, that’s the key. He is so confident in how he hits the ball and at times it almost becomes overconfidence because he knows how well he can hit the ball, how much work he can get on the ball and how good his long game is and believes so much in himself.

People say that he is a very self-assured character but a lot of that is because his cue action is so straight that I can’t imagine a player in the game that had his cue action that wouldn’t be confident about their game. I think that Stephen Lee was next in and then maybe people like Steve Davis and John Parrott, but I think that Murphy cues beautifully at times.

PY: Ronnie O’Sullivan – His cue action is the ideal – compact, full of authority and repeating.

Cue Power

JJ: John Spencer had great cue power but I think Stephen Lee has more so I’m edging towards SL.

NF: Stephen Lee has always hit the ball well, but I have seen him play shots in recent years such as one where he screwed the blue in around the table with reverse left-hand side and got in behind the red and I honestly think it was one of the best cue power shots that I have seen. I can’t think of another player who could have executed that shot.

He has got ridiculous power and sometimes if the tables are as responsive as we see, it can be against you to have that power as you don’t really need it. However it is no coincidence to me that he reached the final of the Haikou World Open recently, a tournament where they were complaining about the tables being a bit damp and sluggish and that extra cue power worked in his favour.

I think he has more cue power than any of the players that I have seen. I have to say that I had a fair bit myself, I was thought of as one of the more powerful players of my era and Jimmy White was also like that, but I think that Lee has phenomenal cue power, too much at times.

PY: Although Neal Foulds and John Spencer must get notable mentions, Judd Trump consistently delivers extraordinary power, zipping the white like no one before, especially with cue-ball and object ball some distance apart.

Will to Win

JJ: It has to be Steady Eddie Charlton who never knew when he was beaten. Steady, just ask Tony Knowles who was 11-5 up in the World Championship way back when (1982). The Australians always seem to have that will to win, I’ve never known one who hasn’t got it.

NF: Neil Robertson is almost able to peak his game at the bigger tournaments and I think that he has the ability to raise his game when it matters. We have seen that when he gets to the finals he is not happy just to reach the final, he has that burning desire to win them and as we know he has not lost one yet which is quite a record. I think that he is a little bit special now and his will to win is better than anybody’s to the extent that if he really wants something that badly, he will get it.

I know that he will lose in finals and have bitter disappointments, but generally speaking he has got that Australian mentality and they don’t really do anything in half-measures. If I could think of a player to clear the colours for my life then it would be him because he would move into a different bubble of concentration and we have seen him move up a gear when he really wants it which is a sure sign of his will to win.

PY: Peter Ebdon‘s capture of the world title in 2002 was pure mind over matter. The mental effort he put into lifting that trophy has never been exceeded and throughout his career, his will to win has bordered on the obsessive.

Snooker Brain

JJ: I’m gonna go for Terry Griffiths who in my opinion was the best. If only he had believed he could beat Steve Davis I’m sure he would have won a lot more than he did and he is now passing his knowledge on now to the top players of the game who go to him for the technical side of snooker. Ray Reardon a close second.

NF: Mark Selby has got all of these ranking points and he doesn’t always win tournaments, but he has got a pretty good B-game. He did well in China and in Wales recently, in which at the start of it I thought that he looked utterly stale, like he wasn’t there at all, so he is calling up on all of his resources to win matches and that is his snooker brain. He likes the game, he watches other players and he has picked up a lot and has got a tremendous snooker brain.

Again Ronnie O’Sullivan would have to get a mention, but the reason I put Selby in is that he is able to get through all of these matches and get all of these ranking points without ever playing at his best. He is winning by his wits a little bit which for a modern day player is quite something, we used to see it years ago where they were able to win without playing at their best because of their knowledge of the game, and that is where Selby fits in right now.

PY: Tactical awareness and general table knowledge, mixed with 20 years of top level professional experience make John Higgins a professor of the baize.


JJ: Everybody has to give this one to the brilliant and sadly missed Hurricane Alex Higgins. I played him many times and toured the middle east together and one thing you can say when you’ve either watched or played him is that he ALWAYS entertained.

NF: To me Ronnie O’Sullivan is the most entertaining now, you could argue that Jimmy White and Alex Higgins would fit that bill, but I think that Ronnie makes the players in the players room sit around and watch, he has got great skills and has taken the game to a particularly special level.

As a commentator now I am always pleased when I am commentating on O’Sullivan, I like the others as well but along with Trump he is one that I enjoy watching, especially and O’Sullivan that is there to win, not the one that we have seen in the past at overseas tournaments where he has just thrown his cue at shots, that I don’t want to see. But an O’Sullivan who is fully wound up is a joy to watch for a former player.

PY: Alex Higgins – Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan run him close but Alex Higgins stands alone. Although the Hurricane had a multitude of faults as a person, his entertainment value as a player was off the charts. No one was more influential in snooker’s late 70s, early 80s boom than Higgins.


So over to you. As ever with such debates, there are no clear answers as the lack of unanimous agreement on any of the categories by Joe, Neal and Phil demonstrates.

Many thanks to Joe, Neal and Phil for taking the time to contribute to this article.