x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Rory McLeod's coaching commitment to Qatar snooker

The world's No 35-ranked snooker player is based in England but spends much of his out-of-competition time coaching the Qatar national team.

Rory McLeod reached the second round at the snooker World Championship in April.
Rory McLeod reached the second round at the snooker World Championship in April.

As commutes to work go, Rory McLeod's has its pluses and minuses. The world's No 35-ranked snooker player is based in England but spends much of his out-of-competition time coaching the Qatar national team.

"It is hot at times," McLeod said of Doha. "You like to be warm rather than cold, but sometimes it is too much. But then I make sure I get lots of fresh air when I'm at home, so it's OK."

For more than a decade, McLeod has been leading his peculiar professional double life, shoehorning in family time in his native Northamptonshire in the UK with touring the world snooker circuit and coaching in Qatar.

Even before the flights to the Middle East started, he was already well-versed in time-management. When he was first trying to make his way in the game he took a variety of day jobs to subsidise his snooker, including roles as an electrician, a barber and a landlord.

However, the demands are becoming overbearing.

"It can be distracting," said McLeod, who first joined up with the Qataris following a chance meeting when they visited a snooker academy near his home town in England, where he was practising at the time.

"It depends on my frame of mind. [At first] they invited me to come over to see them every 10 days for six months.

"From there they asked if I wanted to come and stay over there and I thought, 'Why not? At least I can give it a go. I can always go home.'

"They are giving me more pressure. My calendar is getting a bit full now. They want me there but I don't know how long I will be there."

Despite the constraints on his time, McLeod is performing better than ever on the baize even though he now counts as an elder statesman in a sport whose recent past has been dominated by youngsters.

The path to early success was blazed by players such as Ronnie O'Sullivan and Stephen Hendry, and followed again last month by Judd Trump, the 21-year-old golden boy who was the runner-up at last month's world championship to John Higgins.

McLeod is something of an anomaly. Having just turned 40, he is improving with age.

Last month, he reached the last 16 of the world championship for the first time. His run ended with a battling 13-7 loss to the eventual winner, Higgins.

At the sport's end-of-season awards, McLeod won the Moment of the Season prize for his dramatic shoot-out win over Tony Drago, when he fluked the final black just as the shot clock ran down to zero.

That success, in a timed match against the game's fastest potter, was quite a triumph for a player known for his methodical approach, who was termed "painful" to watch by Ricky Walden, his conquered opponent in the opening round of the world championships.

McLeod now ranks higher in snooker's standing than either of the former favourites Steve Davis or Jimmy White, even though his profession ranks only third in his list of priorities in life.

Born to Christian parents from Jamaica, McLeod converted to Islam after discussions about faith with his Qatari proteges.

"I am definitely a Muslim first, then I am family man, then I am a snooker player third - and snooker means the world to me," he said.

"You can imagine what the first and second are like. Islam is a way of life, it is not something you pick up and put down. I carry it with me wherever I go.

"If I say my five daily prayers, it could take up 10 minutes of my time. It is not really a great deal of time. It's not like I am in solitude for half a day.

"How many times do we waste an hour of our time? My five daily prayers could take 10 minutes, and what is that?

"That is nothing, compared to giving thanks for all that I have got - my eyes, the feet I'm walking on, my great job, the beautiful children I have. What is 10 minutes out of a day to give thanks for all of that?"

McLeod will be bidding to close the gap on snooker's top 16 when the 2011-12 season gets under way with the opening event of the Players Tour Championship in Sheffield on June 20.


* Sportsmen often do a sideline in coaching as a matter of course. Usually that means helping out with a school or junior team, but some take a more unconventional path. Some examples:

• Kevin Nolan, football. The Newcastle midfielder had to step down as boss of Nicosia FC, a Sunday League side in Liverpool, to concentrate on fighting Premier League relegation with Bolton in 2008.

• Don Topley, cricket. Unable to afford anyone experienced, Zimbabwe appointed Topley, who had never played internationally and was still playing for Essex, as their coach for the 1992 World Cup.

• Ghaith Jalajel, rugby. The Dubai Exiles hooker spends his days plotting the future for UAE rugby as the sport’s development officer here. That pays the bills while he plays his own international rugby for Jordan.