Ronnie O’Sullivan may claim not to care about records but the magnitude of his quest to eclipse Stephen Hendry and claim a record-breaking eighth world snooker title in the modern era cannot be understated.

O’Sullivan heads to the Crucible as reluctantly as ever, yet he is arguably never in a stronger position to go one better than his great rival and further enhance his surely unarguable status as the greatest snooker player of all time.

It is a mark of his true greatness that O’Sullivan finds himself in such a position at the age of 48, and having adopted an almost lackadaisical public approach to his sport, picking and choosing his events and constantly deriding his own performances and occasionally those of his peers.

Betfred World Snooker Championship 2022 – Day 17 – The Crucible
Ronnie O’Sullivan is targeting a modern era record eighth world title (Zac Goodwin/PA)

While other players sweat and toil and chisel their way deep into the Crucible’s 17 days, O’Sullivan will waft in and out with an agenda led by the prospect of lucrative exhibitions and ambassadorial deals with the likes of Saudi Arabia, further underscoring his status as simply a player apart.

There are a handful who have proved themselves more than capable of sinking O’Sullivan – not least his fellow ‘Class of 92’ star Mark Williams, who routed him 10-5 in the Tour Championship final last month and is exhibiting some of his best form in years.

Mark Selby, despite another torrid season which resulted in him recently threatening retirement, still summoned a rare 6-0 whitewash of O’Sullivan in February, while emergent Chinese star Zhang Anda beat him in back-to-back tournaments earlier in this campaign.

Betfred Snooker World Championship 2016 – Day Seventeen – Crucible Theatre
Mark Selby is one of few players who has proven he can live with Ronnie O’Sullivan (Mike Egerton/PA)

Yet it remains abundantly clear that having withdrawn from no fewer than seven ranking titles this season for various medical and mental health reasons, the biggest threat to O’Sullivan clinching that prestigious eighth title remains O’Sullivan himself.

Snooker is still waiting for a true rival to stand up and be counted. Judd Trump continues to sweep all before him in lesser ranking events but his displays in the so-called majors have left much to be desired, the expected surge after his 2019 world title win having hardly materialised.

Luca Brecel, the reigning champion and a man after O’Sullivan’s heart after swaggering into the Crucible last year to win the thing despite insisting he had not so much as potted a ball in practice, has endured a dismal season by any top-16 player’s standards.

Christmas Package 2023
Luca Brecel’s world title reign has been less than illuminating (Zac Goodwin/PA)

Selby is another to have performed sluggishly but his grit and determination invariably makes him come good at at the Crucible, and he is clearly the name to be reckoned with – qualifiers notwithstanding – in a much weaker top half of the draw.

Mark Allen is another whose undoubted talent has seldom been glimpsed in a series of Crucible calamities, while older stagers like Ali Carter and Gary Wilson have the guts but perhaps not that final special something required to go all the way.

Two players who were shaping up into the best prospects to at least share the spotlight with O’Sullivan and haul the sport into a new global era, Zhao Xintong and Yan Bingtao, remain banned for a variety of offences relating to betting on snooker.

Cazoo World Snooker Championship 2023 – Day 15 – The Crucible
Mark Allen is yet to show his best form at the Crucible (Zac Goodwin/PA)

It is 90 years since the great Joe Davis won his own eighth title, beating the only other player willing to stump up the five guineas entry fee, Tom Newman, 25-22 in the final played over five days at Kettering’s Central Hall.

In those intervening years the game has changed unfathomably, to the point where Saudi princes are dangling the lure of seven-figure prize money for players who pot a golden ball at the end of a maximum break.

But one constant remains: the dominance of a single individual. Not since the great pioneer Davis, who would go on to win 15 straight titles before retiring undefeated in 1946, has the sport seen a player so far apart from the rest of the field.

The latest episode of the Ronnie O’Sullivan show starts this weekend – whether O’Sullivan, or the sport’s officials, or the rivals he leaves so consistently short-changed and occasionally enraged – like to see it that way or not.