Confidence – the fickle mistress of every sportsman. When they have it, the world is the athlete’s oyster and he can push himself to the peak of human ability in a way that we mere mortals can only dream of. But when they don’t, no amount of talent or practice can guarantee its return. If it could be bottled, stocks would sell out faster than One Direction tickets and a certain Fernando Torres would have it hooked up to his veins on a constant pump. Cristiano Ronaldo has it, Rafa Nadal has it, even Nicklas Bendtner has it, but unfortunately for every darting purist, Raymond van Barneveld does not.
The Dartist from Den Haag has struggled for consistent form ever since he defeated arch nemesis, Phil Taylor in a sudden death shootout to win his 5th World Championship at the Circus Tavern in 2007. In what was undisputedly the greatest darts match of all time, many thought that a new era of Dutch dominance would begin in the sport and that ‘The Power’ would finally be shut off after almost 20 years at the top. Barney had the talent to achieve this, but it has sadly never materialised.Though often showing flashings of brilliance in tournaments that fool me each and every time into thinking he might once again reach his emphatic best, Barney has too often not turned up against quality opposition and looked defeated before the game is even half way through.
Everyone who knows anything about darts believes that Raymond can reach the top again; everyone except the one person who matters – himself.
After plunking £5 on him at 25/1 at this year’s World Championships, it looked as though Raymond might ease the throttling grip Sir Nigel Thrift has on my wallet as he trundled his way to the semi-finals with a counter attacking style reminiscent of when Chelsea robbed the Champions League in 2012. Barney punished his opponents’ mistakes and was once again playing with a smile on his face – a rare change from the glum look of resignation that has dogged him in recent years or the tears he shed while a match was still going on two years ago.
However, despite coming from 2-0 down to level at 2-2, his semi-final appearance against Taylor was only ever going one way as the smug Stokie once again had his number. Barney did not win another set and whimpered to a 6-2 defeat.
Raymond has managed to win only two major titles in the last seven years, and, for a man of his undoubted ability, this is simply not enough. Despite trying any number of things to improve his game – including wearing glasses and taking coaching sessions from his frankly terrifying wife, Sylvia – nothing has yet led to a change in fortunes for the Dutchman.
One of the most likeable men in Professional Sport and with a huge following in the ‘Barney Army’, it would seem that everyone who knows anything about darts believes that Raymond can reach the top again; everyone except the one person who matters – himself.
When it works, Barney is a poet on the oche.
His walk on music is fittingly ‘Eye of the Tiger’ by Survivor, and it would appear that Barney, like Rocky, needs an Apollo Creed to help him get back his edge. He may not be punching any frozen cow carcasses or sprinting on Californian beaches any time soon, but without some form of intensive kick up the backside, I fear for the Dutchman’s future in the sport.
When it works, Barney is a poet on the oche. His throw is so smooth, so consistently effortless that one wonders how he could ever go out in more than the minimum nine darts. Nothing I have read in literature matches up to the great man’s form when on top and, although this probably means I’ve picked the wrong degree, I stand by it nonetheless.
Raymond inspired the young me so much that I blame the fragile left knee that has thwarted any potential football career on following the song “Stand Up If You Love The Darts” far too often. If I could work out the confusing Dutch eBay system I would wear his replica shirt every day of my life. I believe you can do it Barney, but that’s never going to be enough.