Raymond van Barneveld rolled back the years in a thrilling Premier League double-header in Rotterdam this week, demonstrating that he’s still the man for the big occasion with memorable victories over Simon Whitlock and Michael van Gerwen in front of an adoring home crowd.
Van Barneveld came into this week’s Dutch double on the back of four consecutive Premier League defeats, where he’d picked up just seven legs in the process. Nevertheless, he showed his class to bounce back in emphatic fashion and keep his Premier League hopes alive.
The five-time world champion averaged 101.44 in defeating Whitlock 7-3 on Wednesday evening, but his most notable triumph of the week saw him defeat world number one Van Gerwen in a titanic tussle on home soil.
It was arguably the biggest match ever staged in the Netherlands- the current king against the doyen of Dutch Darts. Van Barneveld was an astonishing 7/1 shot with most bookmakers, but he enjoyed the vast majority of support from ‘The Orange Army’ in Rotterdam and defied the odds to claim a famous victory.
It keeps Barney’s play-off hopes alive heading into Manchester next week, but this was about far more than league tables. It was the two greatest Dutch darters of all time battling it out on home soil, and whilst Van Gerwen’s brilliance is undeniable, it demonstrated once again that RvB relishes the big occasion.
‘The Green Machine’ had won seven of the pair’s last eight meetings prior to Thursday night, but Barney has won three of their last seven televised clashes, having also ended Van Gerwen’s 44-match unbeaten run on the big stage in last year’s Premier League.
Van Barneveld’s historic Rotterdam triumph was his 19th career victory over ‘Mighty Mike’- a record only bettered by Phil Taylor. Van Gerwen has a winning head-to-head record against virtually every current player in the game, but only a select few possess the ability and self-belief to defeat him, and Barney certainly falls into that category.
It was reminiscent of their World Championship clash in 2016, in one of the greatest games ever staged at the Alexandra Palace. Barney- the grand master of Darts in Netherlands, turned back the clock to dethrone the current king in a thrilling deciding-set, and Rotterdam was another night of history for RvB.
This year was the Premier League’s third visit to the Ahoy and Van Barneveld remains unbeaten in his four matches there. He claimed a point in his first outing on home soil against Peter Wright, before demolishing Gary Anderson 7-2 last year; averaging 103.71 in the process.
Performing in front of your home crowd can inspire players, as we saw with Daryl Gurney in Belfast earlier this season- when he produced a sublime performance to defeat Rob Cross. Nevertheless, it can also prove a huge burden, as you feel a responsibility not to disappoint the fans that have gathered to support you.
Yet in the case of Raymond van Barneveld, he consistently steps up to the plate in his own back-yard. The Rotterdam crowd were unanimous in their adulation towards the five-time world champion and he duly rewarded them with two magnificent displays.
Some have questioned Van Barneveld’s inclusion in the Premier League but this week’s double-header has comprehensively silenced those critics. He’s the ultimate enigma who produces these Rocky Balboa moments year after year, and the game of darts simply wouldn’t be the same without him.