Luca Brecel is snooker's old kid on the block, but at the age of just 25 has the time, talent and temperament to conquer the Crucible, writes Desmond Kane.
Whatever happened to the likely lad?
Luca Brecel – fighting out of Dilsen-Stokkem in Belgium – remains the youngest player to ever appear at the Crucible Theatre when he lost 10-5 to Stephen Maguire in the World Championship first round aged 17 years and 45 days in 2012.
His ferocious brand of potting left the 2004 UK champion Maguire in admiration of his young opponent's natural attacking instincts, intimating that it was only a matter of time before he became world champion.
"He's a potting machine isn't he?" said Maguire. "He's one of the fastest players I've seen and he's fearless."
It is astonishing to think that in the ensuing eight years, Brecel has won only one ranking event – the 2017 China Championship courtesy of a 10-5 win over Shaun Murphy – and finds himself languishing at number 37 in the game's world list.
It is even more bamboozling when you witnessed his bustling performance in the Championship League this week.
It might have not have appeared to be much in the grand scheme of life's ongoing and unrelenting foibles, but the final frame of the elongated, but engaging 11-day event on Thursday evening was an insight into the very essence of champion quality in professional sport.
With the life draining from his dream, Brecel produced a roundhouse straight out of Jean-Claude Van Damme's Bloodsport. The muscles from Brussels also exist on the old green baize.
Inside the space of only four frames, Brecel seemed to endure a lifetime in a 2-2 draw with Ben Woollaston that does not really do justice to the narrative of a quite excruciating finale.
He had been plunged into a seat in a lonely corner of the empty Marshall Arena wondering if his aspirations were going to disappear down the gurgler without even a crack at the top prize such was the ferocity of the scoring confronting him.
Luca Brecel wins the Championship League.
Image credit: Eurosport
All had seemed in hand when a 67 run had seemingly set Brecel fair requiring only a draw for the trophy, a nifty £30,000 and a place in the Champion of Champions tournament in November.
A 3-0 filleting of Stuart 'Ball-run' Bingham and a 2-2 draw with Ryan 'Dynamite' Day – two hardened pros living up to their nicknames with some swashbuckling snooker behind closed doors – had left Brecel on the brink of his second major title in the sport.
Then came the second frame of the final match. Woollaston attempted to yank a pink into a middle pocket leading 25-0, only to almost bend the jaw at pace as the object ball stayed out.
The pink raced across the table before rebounding into the same hole the Leicester player had initially attempted to drain it.
The fall-out was immense as Ben Woollaston suddenly started to rampage around the table like Ben-Hur.
A man with only two centuries to his name all season before washing up in Milton Keynes became handier with his big stick than major-winning golfer Long John Daly at Crooked Stick.
A 141 that seemed his destiny was followed up at breakneck speed by a 126 of utter nonchalance as Woollaston, playing with as much care as a card shark, sat down knowing one frame would rip the prize from Brecel's seemingly helpless grasp.
The fourth frame, normally a sorbet in snooker parlance well before the main course, was suddenly a cliff-hanger as Brecel, looking a tad browbeaten and bullied, left Woollaston a tempter of a mid-range red.
It somehow stayed out, enabling Brecel – dubbed the 'Belgian Bullet' – to launch a searing counter punch from being out cold as a quite majestic 111 saw him plunder the riches and go undefeated in all nine matches he confronted. It was a reminder of his very essence as an attacking threat of some calibre, but also as a player who has yet to translate desire into fulfilment.
His career path remains up for debate after winning the European Under-19 Championship aged only 14. Perhaps average safety has deprived him so far? Cueball control? Travel demands? Consistency? Equipment? Who knows. There are more reasons not to succeed in any sport. Why Brecel has not yet blossomed only sums up that this life here comes with no guarantees and no refunds for lost years.
Still, the greater point of Brecel's victory was the maturity of it. He is a well-mannered, articulate, focused young bloke, a real thinker of the game, who appears to have been around for years, but is only 25.
Somewhere down the line, he appears to have not matched the hype despite revelling in over 100 centuries in the past eight years, but there is time yet on his side when you consider Judd Trump's rise to prominence at the age of 29 a year ago in carrying off the world crown.
Brecel's talent is clearly immeasurable and he boasts a technique that flows as easily Kevin De Bruyne. He would be wise to make a date with the delayed World Championship at the Crucible next month.
For years, the dream around the sport has been the confirmation of a world champion from China, but perhaps the answer could lie closer to home.
A champion from mainland Europe would be the next best thing to expand markets and heighten interest in popularity that bounds well beyond Milton Keynes.
The Championship League was essential viewing for those with more than a passing interest in snooker. It would have been infinitely better with fans, but the ability to improvise and adapt to the situation under strict health guidelines is not only the key to sport's survival. It is also the way to progress in such uncertain times.
In such a respect, Luca Brecel possesses similar attributes in his willingness to adapt. This is a figure who is armed with the minerals to have a serious tilt at the World Championship.
Tournament final group
Thursday June 11
Stuart Bingham 0-3 Luca Brecel
Ryan Day 1-3 Ben Woollaston
Ryan Day 2-2 Luca Brecel
Stuart Bingham 3-1 Ben Woollaston
Stuart Bingham 2-2 Ryan Day
Luca Brecel 2-2 Ben Woollaston
Championship League winner: Luca Brecel (Bel)
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