Following much debate over who should be selected, in the first place, and then again over who should replace the injured Gary Anderson, the PDC Premier League will get underway tonight in Newcastle (UK).
The first of “The Contenders” will also take a bow. Chris Dobey has been on the verge of a breakthrough for some time. Hollywood, as Dobey is known, first came to our attention in 2014, qualified for the UK Open and reached the last 32 of the World Masters.
After success at Q School in 2015, Chris played the PDC Pro Tour full time. He also received the support of Gary Anderson. After a year of settling in Dobey finally began to show what he could do in 2016. Great runs on the Pro Tour, especially the Euro Tour, ensured qualification for the World Championship, he also qualified separately for the Grand Slam and reached the Qtr Final. Dobey again plateaued, for twelve months, when many thought he was destined for greater things. After flattering to deceive again, during most of 2018, Chris finally moved up a gear during the Players Championship finals and again in the World championships. His run to the last 16 was superb, but his defeat at the hands of Gary Anderson gained him many fans and was lauded as one of the best games of the event.
The serendipitous withdrawal of his Mentor has given Dobey an unexpected opportunity to show his talent to a far wider audience. It will be interesting to see if the Dobey of last December will be on stage, or whether it will be the intimidated Hollywood, of twelve months previously, who capitulated to The Power in 2017/8. If the 2019 Dobey appears, it will be a very tough opening night for the hugely popular Mensur Sulovic.
Elsewhere, Raymond van Barneveld will begin his long farewell to professional darts, taking on fellow former champion James Wade. It is highly debatable that RVB deserves, on form, to be in this year’s edition. However, the Barny Army will get a final chance to enjoy its hero in a regular, competitive and entertaining setting. It could inspire Barney to great things or prove too much pressure for this strangely vulnerable fella. Regardless of the outcome, surely RVB’s contribution to darts deserves a decent send-off.
While players such as Ian White (above), Simon Whitlock and Joe Cullen can count themselves as unlucky not to have been given a shot at the full league, it may prove a masterstroke to feature new blood almost every week.
Local stars and seriously talented newcomers are what inspire crowds and refresh the game for new generations of players and fans. Here’s hoping the idea gets off to a Hollywood start!
James Wade’s superb victory, in this weekends German Matchplay, included a 6-2 win over the apparently imperious Michael van Gerwen. Could this be the chink of light that players and fans have been looking for?
Despite his remarkable performances, in the early part of the Premier League, there have been a few signs recently that “The Green Machine” is in fact human after all. Could it be that he has just gone off the boil? Are the sheer number of events and matches dulling his edge? Or have the others player begun to find ways to at least compete and so pull off surprise results? Or could it be that MVG is struggling at, what could be regarded as, the lesser events and less able to get himself motivated to produce his phenomenal best?
From the start of the 2016 season, barely a chink in Michael’s armour has been visible. He has simply blown away the field in virtually every event since. Pro Tour events that take place off camera, Euro Tour events that are on stage and TV matches at the UK Open and Premier League he has been almost unstoppable. Even the occasional defeat has seemed a blip or a freakish performance from the winner. However that is not quite the full story.
Following the UK Open closely would have given a clue to what may be one slight weakness. Qualifiers Rob Cross and Barry Lynn played very well against MVG. Each played their own game and did not appear to allow fear to affect them too much. They were both qualifiers who had nothing to lose and no previous Van Gerwen baggage. MVG looked off the pace (his own that is!) against them and had to find a moment or two of inspiration to get clearly ahead and win. It seems that he found that more difficult than removing players who he knows and who are damaged already or fear embarrassment.
A couple of close defeats to Benito Van de Pays over the last few months indicate that a player who can stay focused, restrained and throw to his own standard, can earn the chance to gain a prized win. Especially if no extra incentive or inspiration is provided.
Perhaps, to an outsider, the most surprising MVG defeat was inflicted by Ian “Diamond” White in a Pro Tour final during April. Whitey whitewashed Michael 6-0. No inkling of that result was obvious from the previous six games that day. Yet Ian is more than capable of astonishing darts and can be almost unstoppable when in a rhythm. He also gives little for the opponent to react to and is well liked and respected.
Other results give a glimmer of hope. Early rounds are producing closer games. Partially due to Michael seeming to need something to get him going. Recently in Gibraltar it almost seemed as if only danger of defeat brought the best out of him.
A player perfectly suited to exploit these glimmers of opportunity is James Wade. Vastly experienced and comfortable with his own game. He gives nothing extra for MVG to key off or react to. James wins a high percentage of legs on his own throw. He does not throw a high number of huge out-shots or average massively in comparison to some. Yet since last summer Wade has won three out of five encounters.
Meanwhile “The Power” has been edging back toward MVG. Recent games have been much closer, with Phil having strong spells. Could it be that the other players will step up and play their part?
The second half of 2016 looks set to be a superb battle. The field vs MVG with the field finally seeing a ray of light.
Premier League darts has been a huge success. The opportunity to see ten of the best players, across a single raucous night, in huge venues has proven an important driver in PDC darts being the showcase for the professional game. Crowds, in the tens of thousands, flock to buy tickets for the biggest professional exhibition/competition.
There is a healthy debate each year regarding who should be selected to play? Fans have favourites they would love to see in the biggest show. Even supporters of darts’ other code, The BDO, can’t help but wonder how their own players would match up, adding a little spice to the debate.
Discussions regarding how players from differing eras would have done, against the players of today, are commonplace. With modern conditions and advantages would they be able to hold their own or even outdo today’s superstars?
This divides quite nicely into two golden ages. The current, Sky Sports & PDC driven, times and the original 1970/80’s golden age which proved hugely popular and provided many of the templates for the success of today. Players from both eras are held up as icons and whilst some of the debate is, understandably, generational it is not the only factor in deciding who would make an ultimate league.
The skill factor of the players, the simplicity of the game and the intimate and dramatic nature of the competition, the characters and emotions, or lack of, of players at any time. These factors explain the popularity of TV Professional darts. The Premier League is about showing all these assets, to the maximum degree, in a single night and over the entire league. With finals night being the ultimate showdown.
With all that in mind, who would make an all time ten man line up, how would the generations match up? How would the league progress? Who would triumph?
The Line Up.
1 – Phil Taylor: With 16 World Titles and a huge volume of major wins across the generations there is no doubt that Taylor would be the first name on the sheet. His overall skill level is simply unsurpassed and the Premier League distance is just long enough to show it. His competitive, or matchplaying, spirit is also beyond question, winning matches and titles from almost every position and against all types of opposition. The only dip would be the entertainment level, Phil entertains through excellence and offers little more.
Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 8. Total 28
2 – Eric Bristow: Five World Titles, a ruthless competitor and the founder of the feast in terms of entertainment. A prime Crafty Cockney would be the biggest draw of the event and many would be desperate to see him bestride the event with the cocky brilliance of his pomp.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 10, Entertainment 10. Total 28
3 – MVG; A career slam of major titles and one of the driving forces upping the standard in the current era. Able to destroy any opponent MVG would also provide the clearest modern versus classic era battles. Not untouchable especially if dominated.
Skill Factor 10, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 26
4 – Jockey Wilson; Twice World Champion, the totally unpredictable Jockey, would add to the event just by being in it. Yet viewing old footage reveal that he , and other past champions, were capable of 100+ averages even using old equipment. The short format of the these games and Jockey’s sheer determination would mean shocks, sublime spells and probably defeats as well. Adding great drama, to the proceedings, especially in the Scottish venues!
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 10. Total 26
5 – John Lowe; World Champion in three separate decades and a multiple winner in all formats. The ultimate example of the classic stylist. Totally unflappable and the first 9 dart TV hero. Lowe would provide huge contrast to some of the modern players. His battle with Taylor would also carry great interest in a contrasting way.
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 25
6. John Part: Darth Maple is a three-time World Champ across both codes. In his pomp his fluent style and deadly play would have seen him compete in any era against any opponent. Articulate and interesting when discussing the game, his media savvy may also add to the proceedings.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 24
7. Gary Anderson: Double World Champion in an era containing MVG, Taylor & Lewis, to name but three, Gary brings phenomenal darts and differing laid back attitude. I suspect he would relish the opportunity to match with a variety of players from across time. Can have off nights as well which adds to the unpredictability.
Skill Factor -10, Matchplay – 8, Entertainment – 8. Total 26
8. Bob Anderson: World Champion and three-time World Master. The Limestone Cowboy has already shown he could compete with the best from both codes across both of darts great eras. With phenomenal professionalism, and will to win, in many ways, Bob is the perfect example of a pro dart player. Reaching the semi’s of the PDC worlds in his late 50’s and winning the League of Legends in 2008 demonstrate his often underestimated ability. The shirts, the point, and the grit would all add the entertainment as well!
Skill Factor – 8, Matchplay – 9, Entertainment 8. Total 24
9. Adrian Lewis: Jackpot is another double World Champ and just like Gary he achieved them back to back. Another in the modern style who hits big scores for fun. But how would they adapt to the matchplay skills of some of the other players in this league? Adrian has been known to go missing or suffer bouts of frustration. I am sure this would not have gone unnoticed by others in the group. When inspired, Ade is a great entertainer with flash shots and a fun, quick-fire style.
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 8. Total 25
9. RVB: Despite 5 world titles I had difficulty putting Raymond into this league. The important elements of entertainment and grit have been lacking recent times from the Dutchman. Then I remembered the very best of Barney, winning World Titles in both codes, pushing Phil to ever greater heights and the ability to defeat MVG in big games even now!
Skill Factor 9, Matchplay 8, Entertainment 7. Total 24
10: Dennis Priestley: Despite hot competition, for the final place, it must be The Menace. World Champion in both codes, gritty competitor, revolutionary in the art of switching (18’s in his case). With Phil and Part the only member of the Older guard who has Premier League experience. Loved by all fans.
Skill Factor 8, Matchplay 9, Entertainment 7. Total 24.
This league would be very competitive and every great show needs interval entertainment ( think Riverdance!). Special guest would be exhibition doubles.
BDO vs PDC “The Entertainers”
Tony O Shea & Daryl Fitton vs Wayne Mardle & Peter Manley.
How Would The Ultimate PL Go?
The above all time league would provide superb nights of drama and high quality competition every week with shocks and maybe even a bit of needle! Ultimately, with every player being in their prime, the last four would be very hard to pick, as would the elimination pairing, but here goes.
The two Johns would bow out at this stage. Lowe at his best was unbelievable consistent and would have battled in every game. I am not sure he would have had quite enough of a 2nd gear when needed. Part may get off to a slow start playing many of those who he idolised. This would see Dennis Priestley survive as he would start strongly although this would fade he would have the points on the board.
The second section of the League would possibly be the most exciting. Most of the big rivalries and cross era clashes would be seen again, this time each would have settled and be aware that elimination was at stake. I would guess that it would come down to the last week with many outcomes still at possible.
Finally though, the combination of skill, ego and sheer determination would see a Semi Finals between Eric Bristow & Gary Anderson and Phil Taylor vs MVG.
=1 Eric Bristow & Phil Taylor
3rd Gary Anderson
5th Bob Anderson
6th Adrian Lewis
8th Dennis Priestly
Semi 1: Eric succeeds by getting away well and thoroughly enjoying the massive crowd and atmosphere. Gary would catch fire later but Eric would get home reasonably safely.
Semi 2: A belter this one, MVG would be out of the gate and into the lead early. But the chance of playing Eric on the biggest stage and in front of the biggest crowd would prove a huge inspiration to Phil. “The Power” ups the gears and produces a stunning spell mid-match. MVG can not quite match the sudden burst and Phil wins by a couple.
Each man in his absolute pomp, Eric enjoying the benefits of what he built and Phil suffering under the huge pressure that Eric exerted. Phil settling down and out playing Eric mid match. Eric however is less easily worn down and uses every tactic and psychological ploy to knock “The Power” out of his stride.
The last leg decider is certain to be the result. The chance to be crowned the best ever, head to head, would prove the only inspiration The Crafty Cockney needed.
The statement of his intention to leave Liverpool at the end of the season sums up Steven Gerard in many ways. His influence and value to the history laden club is less easy to understate.
Now into his 17th year of 1st team action it is impossible to separate the captain from the 21st century chapter in Liverpool FC history. Gerrard’s debut came in 1998 and within two years he was a mainstay of the 1st team, taking over the captaincy from Sammi Hypia in 2003. The new millenium has been dominated by the Manchester Clubs, Arsenal and Chelsea with Liverpool being forced into a a secondary role and often struggling for the top few league places. Yet they have still added 7 major trophies to the greatest list in British football. The FA Cup has been captured twice, The League Cup three times together with one UEFA Cup and the 2004/5 Champions League. It is no coincidence that Gerrard remains the only player to have scored in finals of all available cup competitions, League, FA, UEFA cups and The Champions League.
The debate about greatest players ever often rages, whether within a club, a nation, a continent and even globally. Yet nearly always the candidates have huge success with the clubs and or nations and are as such part of great teams. Gerrard is a glaring exception to this. The Liverpool teams that he has been part of have moved between the poor or mediocre up to decent sides at best. Compare the AC Milan side of the 2005 final to a Liverpool team that contained Dudek, Finnan, Jimmi Traore and Harry Kewell. As usual Gerrard had only 2 world class support players, Jamie Carragher and Xabi Alonso on this occasion. Milan fielded Maldini, Nesto, Stam, Pirlo, Cafu, Kaka, Seedorf and Shevchenko.
The 2001 UEFA Cup winning side could be looked at as even worse, however it did give Gerrard genuine world class support both up front in the form of Owen and Fowler and behind with the ever present Carragher. This treble winning outfit also finished runners up to Man United that season. United featured Stam, Neville, Keane, Scholes, Cole, York, Giggs, Beckham and Sherringham as well as Butt, Solskjaer, Berg and Irwin.
The 2013/14 squads of Liverpool compared with Man City or Chelsea is almost laughable. It is nothing short of a miracle that they managed to get that close and shows what can happen when Gerrard has a smattering of genuine world class around him. Luiz Suarez, Gerrard, Sterling and Sturridge gave Liverpool every shot at the title. This time however the immense Jamie Carragher was not present and thus the side were short of any real class in defence. No other side would have gotten anywhere near the title whilst shipping goals at the rate LFC managed. The galvanising effect and remarkable leadership of Gerrard together with the unreal Suarez dragged them toward the impossible. It should be remembered that Suarez was missing for the first section of season and still LFC competed with the top sides.
The games since the announcement of his departure have provided more evidence of the immense influence Gerrard retains. AFC Wimbledon were prevented from a famous result by the sheer force of the Skipper’s will. The first leg of the league cup semi final vs Chelsea may hint at the return of Liverpool to last years form, all be it without Suarez, but again Gerrard inspired and galvanised the side after they slipped behind. They remain just one titanic performance away from another Wembley final for the departing hero.
There remains the possibility of cameo returns from his MLS duties and then a return to the fold in another role. Surely the only way is for LFC do do the same for Gerrard as Manchester City did for Patrick Viera. A roving role within the club for a period in order for him to find where he can be of most value to the club and those who will always cherish what he gave them.
The new fan banner from last nights Chelsea semi final may sum it up. The best there is, The best there was & The best there ever will be?
The above phrase has been a mantra in our house for over a decade. I have always liked a bit of a gamble and over the years Harry has provided me with family holidays, consumer goods and a great deal of smug satisfaction. Yet for reasons best known to themselves there have always been a large and loud group who decry Harry both personally and his skills and achievements.
Most recently the naysayers have been cranking up the pressure on QPR to dispense with the services of this remarkable manager. Granted QPR appeared to have had a poor start following their return to the Premier League. This time however owner Tony Fernandez appears to have backed a winner and is sticking with it.
Despite being bottom of the table at the start of this weekends round of fixtures the position was not near as bad as it was being made out to be and following a comfortable 2-0 win over Burnley, Rangers now move up to 17th and are only separated from several places above them on goal difference.
A realistic look at QPR’s games and results since the beginning of the season shows, that far from being relegation fodder, they are performing in a way likely to see them be less under pressure in the second half of the season than the first, and thus favourites to consolidate in the division. Harry managed this same trick after bringing Portsmouth up in the 2002/3 season and finishing in 13th place with 45 points.
The truth of QPR’s season is simply stated , so far they have beaten Burnley, Leicester, Aston Villa and Sunderland, they have drawn with Stoke and Manchester City. Both of their worst losses came early in the season to opposition likely to finish in the top 6. Harry’s men lost out by the odd goal to Hull ( opening day), Liverpool, Southampton, Chelsea and Newcastle. Two goal reverses to West Ham and Swansea make up the rest of their 15 games so far.
Thus it is clear that the Hoops are defeating most of the sides thought to be relegation favourites and others in the lower half. They are losing games to those likely to finish in the middle but are pinching points from some of those and even those higher up.
They had a very tough set of early fixtures compared to many others. After an early settling period, where the personell and the system were tweaked and changed things began to kick into life with a visit from Liverpool on October 19th. QPR looked superb for much of the game and gave Liverpool a torrid time. Although they lost the game, through naivety and surprise at the position they found themselves in, it was a turning point. The 7 games since have resulted in 3 wins 1 draw ( against Man City!) and 3 losses.
The final ingredient in the QPR survival plan will be the collapse of other sides. Whilst the Gers have been finding their feet, and improving steadily, others have started quickly and are now fading fast or have been looking better than they are while others have been improving. Leicester City are now in a spiral that could have no end, Burnley are showing but it is likely to be too little too late. Hull, West Brom have looked below par since the start of the season and with Sunderland and Palace seeming to specialise in pluck draws they too are likely to be in the mix. No doubt Aston Villa will flirt with the lower reaches but use their experience and added maturity to make a better first of it than previously. Is it likely that Harry’s men will perform worse than 3 of that group of 7
For those still doubting the wisdom of my, always back Harry, maxim, here a few more persuasive facts. Redknapp has never been relegated from the Premier League with a team he started the season with. His only two failures came when he entered clubs two late and with little or no background knowledge of club or players. The owner will be desperate not to return to the championship and pay £54 million fair play fines ( however unfair) and thus will again back Redknapp in the January transfer window.
The appointment of Neil Warnock as manager at Crystal Palace is merely confirmation of the desperate tactic employed by chairmen/owners who then lack the courage of the convictions that drove them to the decision.
It seems that the Premier League is currently beholden to the appointment of young managers from a generation of supposedly progressive coaches. Preferably these individuals will have been seen to serve under the one or more titans from the pantheon of currently working management icons. If this is not possible then one with a similar view of the world and a previous connection to the club is a good bet.
Yet come the witching hour, when these best laid plans for progressive football and a vaguely continental attitude result in the club or players struggling to adapt, and clubs find themselves lurching into the relegation zone, then the panic button is pushed and time and time again the call goes out to the old guard. Often but not always older in years, but generally it is their view of the managers role that is old school.
After another failed experiment with the Director of football & head coach combination, Daniel Levy hit the panic button and went against every fibre of his being and recruited, at considerable cost, the very blueprint of the old school manager Harry Redknapp. Four successful years later Levy tired of having the football side of his club run for him and sacked him. He is now on his third head coach since 2012. Milan Manderic can at least be credited with realising his folly and returning to Redknapp’s well before it was too late. West Ham tried a number of differing coaches following the Gold/Sullivan takeover. Finding themselves in The Championship, and hemorrhaging money fast, what did they do? appoint Sam Alladice. Despite his superb effort in getting the Hammers out of that division, at the first attempt and gaining respectable Premier League finishes, in his first two seasons, the vultures have been out for Sam for a while. Only the financial precariousness of their situation and the move to the Olympic Stadium have stayed the co-owners hand so far.
When Ian Holloway owned up, to having created a mess he could not get out of, Crystal Palace hunted high and low for a way out. After protracted negotiation Tony Pulis was appointed, less than twelve months later and having proven himself beyond his board’s wildest expectations, TP was on his way. Again a chairman/owner could not cope with managers who want to manage. Arsene Wenger recently stated that he would not have a Director of football, his simple reasoning was that managers are responsible for the performance of players and teams thus they must be in charge of them and their recruitment.
Warnock is another cut from this cloth, though not naive enough to believe he can still do it alone, and with an existing relationship with the club that will serve him well. His selection over Steve Clarke however illustrates that again in the panic hour old guard manager is prefered to a perceived head coach. A look at the fortunes, mainly in the middle to lower reaches of the Premier League following the departures of these supposedly archaic figures offers a harsh warning to those with delusions. Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn now struggle in the Championship. Spurs have both sold their best player and spent over £100 million whilst failing to improve on Redknapp’s reign in either style or results. Aston Villa have spent 3 years battling relegation after dispensing with the services of Martin O Neil, interestingly they have now added an assistant manager very much cut from the old guard cloth.
Stoke City may play the role of the exception that proves the rule, managing the departure of one old-fashioned manager, Then employing a new one, to use the structures and benefits built by the previous incumbent, and chairman Peter Coates, together with a huge contact book and wide experience in an attempt to progress the club. Everton too appear to have pulled off a master stroke in their appointment of a combination of manager and progressive coach in Roberto Martinez.
The view of Wenger combined with the implosion of Manchester United following the departure of the very definition of old guard point to the syndrome not being restricted to smaller clubs. Barcelona are struggling to find another who can run an entire club and represent a philosophy in the manner of Guardiola.
In the next few months, as the panic hour approaches, the same decision will be taken by several clubs. Will Utd panic and re install Ferguson, with Giggs, and how many others in the lower reaches of the Premier League will send out the clarion call for an old-fashioned manager able to cope with both the task and its pressures. As the supply of these supposed dinosaurs gets less and less the demand may increase. The success of a handful of new potential managers, in the true sense of the word, may yet save these totems of the English game from extinction.