The van Gerwen/Littler Comparison

MvG supremely confident, or jealous of the new cool kid in the playground?

Michael van Gerwen’s comments about Luke Littler in recent weeks haven’t exactly been flattering. Firstly, after a couple of defeats to the 17-year-old, the Dutchman quipped that Littler was failing to put him away convincingly. On Thursday night when he exacted a little revenge in the weekly Premier League final in Birmingham, his press conference hinted at more agitation towards the inevitable questions about his young rival.

“I don’t have to chase anybody. I’m about 150 tournaments in front of him, so good luck to him.”, were van Gerwen’s words when asked about hunting down Littler at the top of the Premier League table. In a later interview he questioned why someone who “hasn’t won anything” was appearing in Forbes (in reference to Littler’s listing by the American business media giant as a global icon in the under-30 category for sport).

Littler is attracting attention like nothing darts has seen; the Forbes inclusion being a case in point. His friend and stablemate Nathan Aspinall also had his say on the newfound fame of the Premier League leader last week, describing him as a “celebrity” rather than a dart player.

The attitude towards the sport’s new superstar, from van Gerwen in particular, is intriguing. Are his dismissive sentiments due to his own supreme confidence, or a mind trick he could be playing on Littler, or even himself, to try to keep the reality at bay? It’s obvious van Gerwen isn’t the player he was. He’s even admitted as much himself, but a new arrival commanding unprecedented amounts of spotlight, who could also usurp his own legacy, is possibly a more troubling thought to wrestle with.

After the other Luke (Humphries) gave him a hiding in the final of a Euro Tour event less than a month ago, MvG conceded that his opponent was the best player in the world and that he and his counterparts had to “accept it”. His grace towards the current World No.1, in contrast to his prickliness towards the younger Luke, might come down to a perception that Humphries, for all his brilliance, is unlikely to ever have a profile to match his own. Despite the decline in his game, he’s remained the big name in darts and that status is now evaporating. He thrives on being “the boss”, as he has often referred to himself (“I’m always the man to beat” was another gem from the press conference). As some on social media have observed, the apparent absence of complements for Littler smacks of the change in demeanour many people felt manifested itself in Phil Taylor when van Gerwen himself was lapping up the adulation of being the new wonderkid in town to knock Taylor off his perch.

Is MvG Right to be Dismissive?

Contrary to Aspinall’s tongue-in-cheek statement about Littler, the interest in him is far more than one of a celebrity. His following off the board is backed up by his numbers on it. Greats of sport don’t seem to like it when newbies come along who show signs of the potential to eclipse their reputations: Pele didn’t wax lyrical about Maradona, Ronaldo or Messi and a couple of years ago when asked to respond to a comment from van Gerwen rating himself as the best of all-time, Phil Taylor retorted that he wasn’t even the best from Holland! Are we now seeing the same psychological resistance in MvG towards Littler?

Littler’s achievements so far suggest that his eventual tally of titles and accolades could be something very special. True, the competition is intensifying but his early numbers are more eye-catching than van Gerwen’s were. Since turning pro he’s won a World Series event in Bahrain, a Pro Tour, Euro Tour, and looks nailed-on for the Premier League playoffs. He has also, quite incredibly, thrown three nine-darters to close in on van Gerwen’s record of four in a season (would you bet against him doing it with nine months to go?)

Littler has played 74 matches as a PDC professional and won 56 of them. In contrast, van Gerwen won 33 of his first 74 in the PDC. We can apply a different comparison with an emergent van Gerwen by measuring the first 74 matches from the time of his first major title, when we saw the second coming of the outrageous talent that had threatened but disappointed since his World Masters win aged 17. Even when examining that period, Littler stacks up.

PDC Careers After 74 matches

 Littlervan Gerwenvan Gerwen Mark II
Match Win %76%45%78%
Overall Average98.1192.6999.65
100+ Averages281627

Are Mighty Mike’s words those of a man clutching at straws, acutely aware of being second fiddle in the media, with the danger looming of some of his records being demolished? One thing that is certain is the uncertainty of Littler’s development from here. Van Gerwen’s career trajectory bears that out – he was expected to be a major force sooner than it transpired and we watched him drop off the radar before returning with a vengeance. Littler has many obstacles in front of him, not least of all Humphries who is undoubtedly the best on the planet, with the highest minimum standard as well as being the most relentless winner of titles. ‘The Nuke’ may have the better of the Lukes in the head-to-head since the World Championship Final, however he is someway off being the top dog in general performance terms. Dislodging Humphries will take some doing, as will seeing off the glut of contenders that will fly through the ranks as his own effect on the sport raises the standard to new heights (a kid named Owen Bryceland averaged just shy of 105 in a JDC event last week, aged 10!)

2024 has already been one of the most fascinating years in the PDC and there’ll be lots more twists and turns before it’s over. The Littler-MvG rivalry is a spicy sub-plot of the captivating story of darts right now.

Editorial Staff

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