December 9, 2015 by bsd987
First, don’t read the headline incorrectly. This is the MvG era. That is no myth, and only a dang fool would suggest otherwise. Robert Thornton’s stunning victory over MvG in Dublin was just that: stunning and a victory. But it was nothing more. We can make comparisons between MvG now and Phil Taylor whenever, but it’s not important to answer the question ‘Is this the MvG era?’ This is the MvG era. End of question.
Now, on to the myth: The MvG era won’t last as long as the Phil Taylor era.
I’ve heard this one a lot, both on Sky and ITV. The calculus of the argument is fairly simple: (1) With the growth of the game internationally, there are more talented players than ever before; (2) there are more opportunities for young and developing players to hone their craft and learn the trade; (3) the ever-growing prize money on offer allows these players to turn fully professional both at a younger age and a lower ranking than ever before; and (4) even if we have not seen the next MvG yet, it’s just inevitable that soon someone will come along that will knock MvG off his perch. An often unspoken fifth element may come into play: MvG is not Phil Taylor.
Let’s take these arguments one-by-one.
(1) With the growth of the game internationally, there are more talented players than ever before
There is no denying that this is true. But just how true is it? It would seem that the globalization of the game, and in particular in the low countries, has greatly increased the potential size of the pool of quality darts players. And increased TV exposure can’t help but introduce more and more people to the idea of playing darts competitively. But do the numbers really show this.
The growth of the game in the past decade in the low countries—fueled initially at least in part by RvB and now by MvG—is only starting to leave its mark on the PDC. Five of the top twenty-four players on the Order of Merit are Dutch, with Belgian Kim Huybrechts making that fully 25 percent of the top-24 being from the low countries. If we go back ten years, only two of the 32 seeds at the Circus Tavern—fourth-seeded Dutchman Roland Scholten and 27th-seeded Belgian Erik Clarys—were from the low countries. In total, there were three Dutch and two Belgian dartists at the Circus Tavern, one fewer than the number in the top 24 today.
But the BDO and WDF game has always been infused with myriad top Dutch and Belgian throwers. Go back ten years, and the Lakeside final was Jelle Klaasen-RvB, two of the six PDC top-24 players today. A third of those six, Vincent van der Voort, lost in the Last 16. So too did fourth-seeded Australian Simon Whitlock, still the game’s top-ranked player from the Southern Hemisphere.
Of course, with the advent of the PDC’s European Tour and other developmental events on the continent, the Dutch talent is being brought forward at a younger age. And many young Dutch players—starting with MvG as the first flag-bearer and continuing now with Benito van de Pas—have moved to the PDC after fewer than two years in the BDO.
The birth of the professional game in Germany and now Austria—where Mensur Suljovic’s 2015 has lead numerous top media outlets to comment on darts for the first time ever—also births many questions. But if we look at how long it took for the depth to develop in the Netherlands after Barney’s first Lakeside final in 1995, it’s a safe guess (although only a guess) that such depth is at least a decade off, if not two.
Overall, there is certainly truth to this prong, but by itself it doesn’t suggest that MvG’s era of brilliance will be shorter than Phil Taylor’s. Phil of course withstood all of these challenges except MvG, although that comparison goes more to the fifth, unspoken argument.
(2) There are more opportunities for young and developing players to hone their craft and learn the trade
I will dispose of this argument much more quickly. The PDC Youth tour has given the chance for young players to play for real money against other youth players, as well as earn two-year tour cards. But—and this will come up again in point (3)—the existence of an opportunity doesn’t necessarily correlate at all to actually breaking through.
Let’s look at a tweet from former World Youth runner-up Ricky Evans, who probably is one of the three or four most honest darts players on Twitter. A few days before the PDPA Qualifier, and with his 2016 Tour Card in jeopardy, Evans summed up the struggles of breaking through:
I know if it clicks next Monday I’ve got a chance, can’t be a one hit wonder!!! Too good to be remembered as a youth runner up
Evans went on to have a career day, winning through to the Alexandra Palace against 150 of his peers, both younger and older than he. Quite possibly, this is the rejuvenation his career needs. But countless other young players, most even, make the jump and even sometimes win a tour card before fading into first round exits in Wigan or Coventry each weekend. Even those that break through, take Kirk Shepherd, struggle to redefine themselves as their careers progress.
The existence of the youth tour and the opportunities for young players are a great thing for the development of the game. But very few players will become Michael Smith. Most will never even reach the level of Ricky Evans, never getting to the point where anyone will notice when they spill their souls on Twitter. That any will become Phil Taylor or MvG, while possible, is like betting on a nine-darter. It will happen, yes, eventually, but by Dave Chisnall in Wolverhampton, when nobody expects it, right when everyone starts wondering if it will ever happen again.
(3) The ever-growing prize money on offer allows these players to turn fully professional both at a younger age and a lower ranking than ever before
This argument obviously goes hand-in-hand with the previous, so I’ll take care of it quickly. There’s a difference between being able to turn professional and in being able stay professional, to be able to have the financial security to go through a bad week or month or year. We’ve seen established veterans such as Wayne Jones return to work recently, and he won’t be the last.
The increased prize money, while significant, largely goes to the few players at the top. The biggest money remains limited to the big TV events, and the fickle nature of the pro tour makes access to that money almost a game of chance for all but the top 20 or so in the world. Getting to the Last 16 on the floor on Saturday nets you £1,500, but when you factor in travel, hotel, and entry fees, that disappears quickly. And when you go out first round on Sunday, you get nothing more for the return home.
Meanwhile, the players at the top and especially MvG can afford to play fewer and fewer events, to build a schedule that maximizes their energies and skills. They can choose whether to play exhibitions, not be forced to to play the bills. They can charge even more for the few they do show up for. They can always be in peak form when they do show up. They can let the Ricky Evanses and Wayne Joneses fight for the remaining crumbs.
If the PDC prize money really does double in the next five years, this could make it easier for more players to turn professional. But it will also make it easier for those who have already done so to widen the gap between them and everyone else. It’s a two-edged sword, and one that cuts MvG a lot less deeply than it does those lower on the totem pole, if it cuts him at all.
(4) Even if we have not seen the next MvG yet, it’s just inevitable that soon someone will come along that will knock MvG off his perch
Yes. Sure. Just like it was inevitable that someone would knock Phil Taylor off his perch. This doesn’t tell us when. Next.
(5) MvG is not Phil Taylor
This is the big one. MvG is not Phil Taylor. Phil Taylor is something different, something we will never see again. The biggest. The greatest. The strongest. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. He is an aura. He is a god.
But why isn’t MvG? Yes, Phil Taylor was special. Yes, Phil Taylor is special. On his day, he still is one of only two players who can go toe-to-toe with MvG for thirteen best-of-five sets when MvG is also on his day. He is still one of only three players, this time including MvG, who there is not a mathematically conceivable average over 95 that would make you blink; it’s only the low averages that cause you to look twice. But none of that is what made Phil Phil or makes MvG MvG.
What made Phil Phil is his unnerving ability to do everything. To score. To finish. To run away and hide. To lurk. To pounce. To cannibalize. To murder. To redefine himself. To improve. No player before him had his patience. No player before him had his sense of timing. No player before him had his sense of necessity, to know when his life depended on a particular dart, to know when to lift himself and crush his opponent. No player before him had such a heightened understanding of the importance of winning. Of the despicability of defeat.
Which is not to say no one during the era of Phil Taylor was ever as good as Phil Taylor. Dennis Priestley around 1994, John Part around 2002-03, and RvB around 2006-07 all reached Phil’s level. All dethroned him at the top of the game and consistently challenged him across all formats of the game. All asked Phil Taylor questions. And Phil answered all of them. He improved. he improvised. He imposed himself and got better. Phil Taylor in 1995 was better than Phil Taylor in 1993. Phil Taylor in 2004 was better than Phil Taylor in 2001. Phil Taylor in 2008 was better than Phil Taylor in 2005. By January 2009, Barney could averaged 101 against Phil and be lucky to take one solitary set out of eight. Phil had averaged 110.94. In a World Championship final. Against the toughest opponent he had faced. Just because he understood the importance of winning. Just because he had learned his opponent’s weaknesses and frailties, had learned how to exploit them. Had learned how to beat them. To imprison them.
MvG is the same. And in his young age, we’ve already seen him fight off an equal. By the end of 2014, Gary Anderson’s game had come together. He might not have been ranked number 1, but he had everything. It was his time. And he thoroughly disposed of MvG at the Alexandra Palace. By May 2015, he had added the Premier League to his locker.
But MvG adapted. MvG—who even two years earlier people were saying mentally could disappear and miss doubles in droves—adapted to play Gary. He learned Gary’s weaknesses. He learned Gary’s frailties. He learned what hurt Gary. What finished Gary off. In Hasselt, Gary had the trophy engraved. And then MvG saw his opening. He pounced. And won every remaining leg. He won the trophy. He showed who was boss. He put Gary in his place.
And none of this is to insult Gary Anderson. Gary Anderson is gifted. Gary Anderson very possibly has another World Championship in his arm. He may have two more. But his fiber is different. A darts match is not life or death for Gary. It is for MvG. It is for Phil.
When MvG beat Phil Taylor in the Grand Slam final in Wolverhampton, Phil showed an emotion we had never seen from him before: He was mentally defeated. Instead of waiting until they were off stage or a different moment to give MvG the final lesson MvG needed to become the face of darts, Phil confronted MvG and let him know that his celebrations were too much for someone who is the best. It may be okay for Dean Winstanley to run the stage down when he throws a nine-darter, but MvG is the best. He doesn’t need to tear the world apart when he wins.
But it wasn’t that that led Phil to confront MvG. Phil was correct, but Phil was broken. Phil had nothing left, by Phil’s standards. No major trophies. No legitimate claim to being the best in the world. He had to tell people not to write him off because his locker was empty. There was no sign of Phil on the list of major holders. Only a spattering of “Phil Taylor” on the runners-up column.
This had become fully the era of MvG.
For a man who had the fiber of a champion, the unnerving need to win, who still had the belief that he could and would, to see a challenger who had finally surpassed him was disheartening. Phil Taylor had finally broke.
But MvG also knew what the confrontation was about. This was the last hurdle, and he knew it. He still had the unnerving need to pulverize his opponent, but he could now walk in Phil’s footsteps and win with grace. When he beat Adrian Lewis in Minehead a fortnight later, he was much more composed. He had done his job. And that was that.
MvG had become Phil Taylor, the rare combination of technical perfection and mental nirvana that no one else has mastered.
Gary Anderson doesn’t have the Phil Taylor or MvG mental fiber. He is mentally strong enough to beat anyone in any given situation. That’s why he is World Champion. That’s why he is number two in the world. But he doesn’t have that almost unique insight into his opponent’s mind that Phil Taylor and MvG have. It’s not a knock against him. It’s just that when it comes to darts, he’s not God. He can ask MvG questions, but MvG can find the answers. MvG can raise MvG’s game. MvG can eventually put Gary in MvG’s dust.
In darts, Phil Taylor is God. And so too is MvG.
It’s impossible to know when the next God comes along. It’s impossible to know when that next person will come that finally disposes of MvG. He might be on tour already. He might not be born.
Someone will come along that challenges MvG, and the depth in the game and the increased opportunities will probably mean that people will challenge and reach MvG’s level more often than they challenged Phil. But that doesn’t mean the MvG era will be shorter: It just means the MvG era will be more interesting. We won’t have to wait five or six years for uncertainty in a tournament.
But until someone comes along who has that fiber that Phil Taylor and MvG have, it will be the era of MvG. He will see off the pretenders like Phil saw off Dennis Priestley and John Part and RvB. Like MvG is already seeing off Gary Anderson.
He might not win 16 World Championships. But he might. Because he is that good. Because he has that desire. Because unlike anyone except Phil Taylor before him, he knows how.