“You can’t say it out loud, but this year has been good to me.” Those were the words of Raymond Van Barneveld, who seemed incredibly charismatic after his recent video interview ahead of a return into competitive darts. Only in December 2019 was the Dutchman embarrassed 3-1 by American Darin Young in the World Darts Championship. Now, he looks a shadow of that former self, with an aurora of pride about his darting legacy.
With 29 PDC titles to his name, the slate will be completely clean for Van Barneveld – including a fresh new management team and tutoring from world number 24 Jeffrey De Zwaan – whose darting knowledge came Van Barneveld himself when the player was at the very prime of his career. The 53-year-old believes he could turn back time to become the fresh new kid of the block within darts. “I have now a unique opportunity to realise my dream and to work in a team, and travel with them to build up Raymond Van Barneveld 2.0”
His new manager Ben De Kok believes that his strict routines can get Van Barneveld back to his very best after managing the player twice before alongside De Zwaan. “Jeffrey is a pretty lazy person. Since he has been under contract with me, he must get up early every morning to go to the gym and practice hard afterwards. The same has been discussed with Raymond, only if he sticks to that can it work.”
“This will be the third and hopefully the last time. I had to think about this for a long time. Raymond can sometimes be a terrible winner and a very negative person.”
Attitude has been a key issue since Van Barneveld’s retirement plan back in 2018 – with his Sky interview after his final PDC game ending in embarrassment. After being asked for a message for his fans, ‘Barney’s army’ were left silent, instead given an interview from a player without any confidence or care.
The timing of Barneveld’s initial retirement came in a major part of his life, seeing a divorce from his wife of 25 years Sylvia. The underlying issues at home had slowly crept into his game, before a new relationship began. “I have a fantastic partner in Julia who thinks of solutions for me, instead of problems. With her next to me, I’m pretty sure I’ll have a good compact.”
While Van Barneveld’s aims and aspirations are high for the future ahead, there are still doubts from former players and fans on whether ‘Barney’ can get back to his best. World number one Michael Van Gerwen was asked about Van Barneveld’s return by Dutch publication Nu.nl, saying “He is now putting so much pressure on himself once again. This is typical Raymond.”
While the slate will be clean for Van Barneveld to enter the PDC Qualifying School in 2021, the dreams of fans chanting the Dutchman’s name to his iconic walk-on song “Eye of the Tiger” is going to need hungry eyes from ‘Barney’ himself, if there’s to be any chances of the former World Champion making another major competition in the near-future.