It will be quite the swansong. To a degree, there’s a certain paradox in eulogising over the career of a man whose retirement is still 13 months in the distance. However, there can be few across the sporting spectrum who have represented and achieved as much as Raymond van Barneveld.
Removing Phil Taylor from the discussion – a 16-time world champion is an anomaly in any discipline – ‘Barney’, as the Dutchman is affectionately known, must surely be viewed as darts’ most significant face of recent times.
A five-time world champion in his own right, Van Barneveld’s influence on darts extends almost inexplicably beyond the relative platitudes of trophies and cheques. His split from the BDO to join the PDC in 2006 opened the floodgates for a deluge of the game’s current top brass to join him. Gary Anderson, Michael van Gerwen, Simon Whitlock and Jelle Klaasen all soon followed Barney’s lead.
A year after his arrival in the PDC, he beat Taylor to win the world championship in the greatest game in darts history. It was, in many ways, perhaps the most symbolic moment in a career that has meant so much.
It opened the eyes of his former BDO colleagues to what was possible, it brought Barney a fifth world crown and the manner of the triumph earned him an army of fans. It also made the sport mainstream in the Netherlands.
For all of Van Gerwen’s success, it was Barney who sewed the seeds for the Netherlands to become one the world’s darting powerhouses. The pair of maestros are the current World Cup holders and it is because of the Van Barneveld effect, the foundations are laden with his genes.
Further afield, that 2007 victory over Taylor had a similar effect. For all of the PDC’s work in expanding the sport, Van Barneveld gave the game a global face. If Taylor was darts’ figurehead, Van Barneveld was the flagbearer for all beyond the United Kingdom.
While Canada’s John Part won the sport’s holy grail in 2003 – an equally special 7-6 win over Taylor, Barney held greater worldwide appeal as a figure from beyond the Commonwealth.
As an increased field of 96 competitors arrives at Alexandra Palace for next month’s world championship, there will be players from more than 15 nations. The sport’s top 20 features eight different nationalities and Van Barneveld is joined in the world’s top 50 by eight fellow Dutchmen.
There is a justifiable school of thought that argues that had Taylor retired in 2006 having won nine of the previous 10 world titles, the sport may well have struggled to cope, such was the gap between he and the rest. That the sport finds itself in such rude health now is substantially down to Van Barneveld. His arrival re-energised the PDC, with high-class players following Barney as he and Taylor continued to raise the bar.
Much like Taylor, Van Barneveld will depart the scene to thoroughly merited fanfare, with the sport indebted to all that he represents.