With the greatest ever darts player stepping off the oche and into retirement, you might say the way is clear for Michael van Gerwen to become the sport’s new poster boy.
But ‘Mighty Mike’ is already a mighty force in the world of bright shirts and Bullseyes and insists he’s been carving his own legacy despite Phil Taylor still basking in the limelight. The dynamic Dutchman is without doubt the best darts player in the world today. Leading the sport into a new era, with ‘The Power’ set to switch the lights off on his legendary career at the end of this season.
Van Gerwen’s compatriot Raymond van Barneveld who famously battled with Taylor for major honours during the early 2000’s, which catapulted the sport into the mainstream, is also a fading force – with Van Gerwen now the face of the new breed that also includes Adrian Lewis, Peter Wright and Gary Anderson. And it is with this new breed that Van Gerwen thinks today’s stars are taking the game to new heights.
“Even with Phil Taylor I’m making my own legacy,” Van Gerwen told Sport360° when asked whether he felt Taylor’s impending curtain call felt like an opportunity to strike out on his own.
The 28-year-old was speaking ahead of the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters – where he won the first three straight titles from 2013-15 and will be going for a fourth in five years tonight after overcoming Van Barneveld 10-5 last night at the Irish Village.
“I feel, with all the other players, we’re raising the game again to a different level. You cannot do that on your own, you need other players to play good against you.”
Mighty Mike is rarely short on confidence, but as brilliant as he’s been since bursting onto the scene in 2012, he’s humble when he insists he will “never” get close to “legend” Taylor’s 16 world titles.
“I’m never going to reach as many titles as him,” added the 28-year-old. “I think I’m going to be retired before I reach him. But who cares? I’m Michael Van Gerwen, I want to do something different. I’m playing well and I hope I can keep performing at this level.”
Taylor’s incredible record speaks for itself. He has won 216 professional tournaments, including 84 major titles and a record 16 World Championships – a haul that included eight consecutive crowns from 1995-2002. He has twice been nominated for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year, finishing runner-up to AP McCoy in 2010 – the only darts player to finish inside the top three in the award’s 63-year history.
Mighty Mike’s own career is also pretty magnificent. The world number one has 23 major titles since his breakout year in 2013. He is the reigning world champion – although his two trophies is some way behind Taylor’s 16 – and arrived in Dubai on the back of retaining his Premier League Darts title following a stunning 11-10 triumph over Peter Wright in the final last Thursday – a third success and one which puts him in second place, three behind Taylor.
Having announced in January that 2017 would be his final season, Van Gerwen hopes The Power will still be flickering behind the scenes even after he pulls the plug. “He’s been great for the sport,” said Van Gerwen, the instantly recognisable green-shirted, bald Boxtel native. “What can you say about that man? He’s a legend. The only thing we can do is have respect for him and give him a lot of credit. I hope he stays in the game, doing some television or something.”
Taylor and Van Barneveld were darts’ early pioneers, helping to elevate the game from its smoke-filled dingy amateur setting of the British Darts Organisation (BDO) in the 1980s and into the modern era. Taylor left and was a founding member of the Professional Darts Corporation (PDC) in 1992 – with the game’s popularity growing once Sky Sports became involved.
Darts is now a juggernaut. The total prizemoney on offer when Taylor won the inaugural World Championship in 1994 was £64,000 (Dh305,000), with The Power earning £16,000. The pool for next year’s 25th edition will be a staggering £1,800,000 (Dh8.5m) with the champion taking home £400,000. But although it’s now a money-spinning machine, Van Gerwen says he is comfortable with his and the sport’s growing popularity and all the add-ons that comes with. “You shouldn’t (feel under pressure). I enjoy it. Normally it’s the nice part, getting paid well. But there’s other things too like media requests, there’s kids watching so you have to act normal. There’s loads of other things you have to do outside of playing but it’s all one package.”
Although it doesn’t come with the gravitas of a world or Premier League title and isn’t a ranking event, the Darts Masters in Dubai is a tournament close to Van Gerwen’s heart – having won the stunning ‘Dallah’ three times. He was on course for a fourth last year before Gary Anderson fought back brilliantly from 8-4 down to win 11-9.