Dutchman Michael van Gerwen is the number one ranked darts player in the world but he’s been number one in many fans’ hearts since he burst onto the scene in 2012.
With his trademark luminous green shirt, striking shaved head, passionate celebrations and animated demeanour, he’s the new face of a sport that has been dominated for the best part of a decade by compatriot Raymond van Barneveld and legendary 16-time champion Phil Taylor.
‘Mighty Mike’ is looking practically unplayable at the moment, having been crowned Premier League Darts champion a week ago following an 11-3 thrashing of arrows icon Taylor in the final.
And the 27-year-old also has a formidable record at the Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters which begins Thursday, where he will be defending the trophy he has won three years on the trot.
MVG took time out from his tournament preparations earlier this week to speak to Sport360.
You’ve won the first three Dubai Duty Free Darts Masters titles. Does that stand you in good stead or put you under pressure?
The pressure has already been on my shoulders for the last couple of years and I’m handling it quite well, I feel. I’m playing quite well, I did really well last week in the Premier League final, and I go into this tournament with great confidence, and hope I can show my talent again. That’s all I want to do.
Having won three titles in the UAE, are you desperate to win No4 this weekend?
Of course, I’m always desperate to win. Otherwise you shouldn’t be competing in the tournament. Everywhere I go I like to win and if I don’t I will be disappointed. That’s how it works, it makes me hungry. I always want to win titles, it’s like feeding myself. It’s a habit.
You’ve enjoyed so much success in the last few years, so do you have to set yourself new targets?
You always need to set yourself targets. Always try 200 per cent and that’s what I do in every tournament I play. Some people say ‘you’re doing too much’ but I say other people have to work five or six days a week so why should I moan or complain? We have a good life. Sometimes travelling is hard but it’s all part of the job.
You’re playing Peter Wright in the quarter-finals. You beat him in the 2014 final, so what sort of match are you expecting?
I think it’s a cracking game but with the eight players out here playing in the quarter-finals I think they’re all cracking games. There’s no easy game and you can’t underestimate anyone because they can all play darts. One mistake can cost you. It will be fantastic to play him, and there’s some fantastic first games. It is a strong field and we play each other week in week out and we know exactly what we have to do against each other to beat each other. So I think the fans are getting treated very well.
This trophy is a particularly nice-looking one, do you have them all on display at home?
I have three now. I don’t have them on display yet but I’m building a new house now and will have a nice room with all my trophies and other things, so that will be nice and I look forward to when that’s ready, but it won’t be finished until January or February.
So, are you having to build a new house just for all your trophies?
No, it’s just I have a bit more money now so I’m being a bit cleverer.
You seem to have taken darts to another level, especially in the last few years. Have you changed anything?
No not really, it’s just confidence. You need to have confidence to play well in this game. It’s the mental aspect too, the training and ability all helps too. If you didn’t have any talent you wouldn’t make it out there.
You’re a massive fans’ favourite. They love you and you love them…
I’m a little bit of a favourite. But people buy tickets to come and watch you so you always need to give 200 per cent. That’s what I do and I like to play well for the crowd, the people at home, everyone.
Your fellow Dutchman, Raymand van Barneleld, is a five-time world champion. Was he a role model for you growing up?
He was always on television but I never watched television to be fair. I’d rather play myself. I don’t really look up to people. I’m not the new Phil (Taylor), or the new Raymond. I’m Michael, simple as. I get the comparisons to those guys a lot and I don’t like it. I like to do my own thing and I’m a totally different person.
Would you agree though that they’ve raised the profile of darts?
They’ve done so much for this sport. They’ve been great for darts but now there’s a new level, a new generation coming up and people need to make space for that. There’s lots more talent now whereas back a few years ago Phil and Barney were the only two stars.
How did you get involved in darts?
We always had a board at home or at friends houses so we’d always have little tournaments. Then it moved on to ranking tournaments. I grew up playing football but I was rubbish so I started to play darts at 12 or 13. I won all the time so when I was maybe 16 or 17 I thought I might be able to make a career out of it. Also, in Holland it’s really cold during the winter, it’s raining outside, so you have to do something inside with your friends.
How often do you practice?
It depends what tournament it is, I don’t have the same routine. I don’t think there’s any point in that because every tournament is different. It changes because other things in life come up too.
What advice do you have for kids playing darts who want to play professional?
Enjoy it. They need to enjoy it if they want to play well. They need to whatever is in their power to be as good as possible and practice. Having that hunger and desire is important.
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy myself. I have a couple of hobbies. I like fishing, I like spending time with my wife of course, just relaxing.
What other sports do you like apart from darts?
I love football. PSV Eindhoven are my team and we’ve had a good season. We did well in the Champions League too. I would love to see them make a final but we don’t have the money to compete with the big clubs. I go to see them when I have a chance.
How disappointed are you that the Netherlands won’t be at Euro 2016?
They are rubbish, there’s not much more they can do. Like darts they need a new generation coming through.