New generation to cut short Mighty Mike dream of darting dominance?
Holly Thackeray | January 27, 2016
Can Van Gerwen truly replicate Taylor’s sporting Power?
Before Christmas cakes were rolled out and crackers pulled, world number one Michael van Gerwen’s crown as king of darts looked indisputable and unshakable, with a rampant autumn run denting doubts in the endless debate over whether the Dutchman will dominate darts boards in Phil Taylor-esque style for years to come.
Yet, an earlier than expected exit from the 2016 World Darts Championship in this enthralling and often fickle sport put the arrowsmith argument centre stage once again, aptly with the prestigious Premier League Darts tournaments approaching rapidly.
Having already responded emphatically at The Masters, retaining his title with relative ease, Van Gerwen is suitably warmed up for the big stage, and first faces James Wade at Leeds’ First Direct Arena as he picks up the Premier League mantle.
However, is it really still possible for any player to have such a stranglehold on the sport anymore? As costumed, beer-swigging crowds at packed venues across the country will already be more than aware, the landscape is changing dramatically and almost quicker than marketing behemoth the PDC can keep up with.
The upcoming Premier League Darts will now enjoy a first pit-stop on the continent, visiting a sold-out Rotterdam Ahoy Arena, to appeal to an ever growing global fanbase clamouring to see their working class heroes in person.
Van Gerwen’s appeal as the unstoppable Green Machine, complete with characteristic lime shirt, confidence which more than occasionally spills over into arrogance and a White Stripes walk-on song handpicked by Sky Sports, is central to the new appeal. Though, spearheading this fashion and popularity may end up posing its own problems for the Dutch prodigy. With wider exposure and bigger prize pots comes greater competition.
All the world a stage for emerging stars
The recent Worlds was a more than riveting example, as much coverage (and social media frenzy) focused on a gaggle of young-guns threatening to break through in MvG-style fashion, with giant killings, ever faster throwing and bold performances. At the Ally Pally, a new generation truly cut their teeth.
It was a feature reigning world champ Gary Anderson commented on himself during the competition, telling media outlets: “Yes, Michael van Gerwen has got all the ability in the world but with the way that darts is now, over the next 10 years there will be hundreds of Michaels coming through.
“They’re all going to be pushing him so he’s not going to get as many, I don’t think.”
In particular, Alexandra Palace audiences were glued to their seats, mouths agape, as Van Gerwen (6/5 with Coral to win the Premier League) himself almost slipped at the first hurdle to bullish German Rene Eidams, who displayed daring to come back and scare the world number one from what looked to be an inevitable bludgeoning.
The Preliminary Round qualifier, as coolly as his nickname The Cube would suggest, stunned Mighty Mike to much acclaim but this game-raising was not a one-off from the 26-and-under contingent.
When discussing fledgling throwers, few name established MvG anymore, though he is just 26-years-old himself. Not everyone peaks so early, it is to be remembered, with many of Mighty Mike’s youthful peers still ironing out inconsistencies.
Lending credence to Anderson’s predictions, Dutchman Jeffrey de Zwaan (19), dancing Belgian Dimitri van den Bergh (21), German hope Max Hopp (19), another burgeoning Netherlands star in Benito van de Pas (23), English arrowsmiths Keegan Brown (23), David Pallett (25) and Ricky Evans (25), Austria’s Rowby-John Rodriguez (21) and Welsh dragon Jamie Lewis (24) are all jostling to make a name.
Some have been carving a niche for some time, while others are newer to the scene, with confident Van den Bergh and scorer of joint-highest Worlds checkout Rodriguez in particular looking like contenders to Van Gerwen’s throne and impressive even in defeat.
While, closer to home, highly-rated Brown may not have done himself any favours on the big stage, but was delivered an unkind draw. Though, Michael Smith’s maturing at 25 to earn a Premier League wildcard place may make things much more interesting. Bully Boy can now test himself against the best week-in, week-out, and see how he compares to Van Gerwen for consistency.
Taylor chance a one-off?
Those fresh faces still have much to prove, of course, before they can claim to be a threat to decorated Dutch master Van Gerwen. To remind, before his festive frustration, the Green Machine took the spoils from an incredible and awe-inspiring 18 tournaments in 2015 but missed out on the big two (Worlds and Premier League).
Mighty Mike will only be more motivated for a clean sweep across 2016, after being forced to share the PDC Player of the Year title with Anderson.
His extensive achievements already eclipse the many older oche protagonists such as Peter Wright, that the former world champ duels with on a regular basis. Yet, the trophy haul all players aspire to most of all is the record 82 majors and 16 World Championships Taylor boasts.
According to pundits, the Power is yet again in decline but, once Taylor finally hangs up his tungsten tips, Mighty Mike will not suddenly not have it all his own way on the oche, with a clean run at equalling his amazing haul.
Taylor began his ascent in the late 80s, backed by another great in Eric Bristow, when darts was still very much the preserve of pub circuits, eventually becoming a PDC trailblazer.
The Power had to toil a long time for the rewards he has reaped and, as with the fruitless comparisons between football legends such as Pele, and the modern equivalents like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, is is truly to tough to place them alongside with proper context.
In a time when competitions and standards were admittedly lesser, did Taylor have it easier than his counterpart today? Perhaps, yet his talents have stood the test of time to prop up their achievements against the pretenders.
Another veteran in Terry Jenkins notably once stated: “Michael will probably add to his one world title over the next two or three years, but his reign won’t last as long as Taylor’s.
“Michael’s a great player but he’s not a Phil Taylor, he’s nothing like as consistent. Phil has done it week, after week, after week, year after year.
Admittedly, these comments were made before Van Gerwen’s recent autumnal blitz, and at 26 he is far from his true potential.
Legend Bristow saw himself usurped by up and comer Taylor, as The Power now watches Van Gerwen storm to sets with peerless force and precision. Yet the pair’s talents have stood up well against each other, as The Power holds a 26-15 head-to-head record, which is a testament to the skill of both.
Former ace and current pundit Chris Mason believes it is not beyond Van Gerwen to surpass the all-time great, previously stating: “Michael just seems to have another gear over everyone at the moment…To be quite honest he could quite easily reel off the next four or five titles and take us into the next decade. Who is going to stop him?
“Stopping Michael right now will take something very, very special.”
Exciting future ahead
In the end, it was compatriot Raymond van Barneveld who spectacularly stalled MightY Mike on the world stage, not one of the youngsters waiting in the wings, showing he still has a thing or two to learn.
Van Gerwen himself even once said: “There’s never, ever going to be someone like Taylor.
“The standard is so high. With Phil, Raymond van Barneveld, Adrian Lewis, James Wade, Simon Whitlock and myself, you have a lot of top players and they all can beat each other.”
Though, when watching MvG in full flow, hammering out 180 after 180, it has hard to ignore the shivers that suggest you are watching history being made, and a future legend plying his trade.
If Van Gerwen is to truly reach such an iconic status as Taylor, however, and become synonymous with his chosen sport for spoils as well as longevity, it may not be the current crop he needs to watch out for. He certainly has the measure of them.
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