COLUMN: The PDC's idea for a Gary Anderson replacement is better than its execution
The decision from the PDC to replace Gary Anderson with nine different players in the Premier League Darts has created a social media storm.
Darts followers, fans and even players were blown away by the shock announcement. With debates raging, the PDC 's main aim has already been achieved before the Premier League Darts has even started: promotion. The Premier League is the biggest cash cow for the PDC , so the mass of interest surrounding it is very welcome indeed.
The competition kicks off with nine players instead of ten. This means that only one player will be relegated after Judgement Night. After the first phase, the remaining eight players will battle for the play-off spots. Anderson's place will be taken by a new tenth player every week. The PDC picked Chris Dobey, Glen Durrant, Steve Lennon, Luke Humphries, John Henderson, Nathan Aspinall, Max Hopp, Dimitri van den Bergh and Jeffrey de Zwaan to replace Anderson. The replacements can't earn points towards the Premier League standings, but receive a financial bonus if they win a match. Their opponents - the regular Premier League players - retain any points gained from these matches. It's an odd decision, one which leads to an uneven competition between the nine regular Premier League participants. Normally every player faces each other once, which means everyone has had the same set of fixtures. With this format, the nine replacements can have a big influence on the progress of the competition. There's a big difference between playing three-time world champion Glen Durrant (as Daryl Gurney will in Glasgow) and taking on the relatively inexperienced Steve Lennon (a task assigned to Peter Wright). Of course these players won't lose on purpose, but there is a marked difference between them all.
In my opinion, this decision has been made because there was - at this moment - no worthy replacement of Anderson available. The only player of Anderson's calibre who could have replaced the Scotsman retired at the beginning of last year - and there's no way that Phil Taylor was coming back. 'The Power' is still performing very well at darts exhibition, which does show he can still keep pace with the PDC big boys if he wanted to. But of course, he doesn't.
The PDC then had to make a very difficult decision. The easiest solution would have been to invite Simon Whitlock. 'The Wizard' is ranked number nine on the PDC Order of Merit and reached the final at the European Championship last year. However, the Australian lost 3-0 to Ryan Joyce at the World Championship and got demolished 10-1 by Mensur Suljovic at the Masters last weekend. Whitlock, in that form, is not a suitable addition for the Premier League.
'Devaluation' of the Premier League Darts
The PDC selected a mix of future stars and local favourites. For example, Bedlington ace Dobey is going to play in Newcastle. Henderson faces Michael van Gerwen in front of his home crowd in Aberdeen, while Lennon appears in Ireland against Peter Wright.
I can imagine that players like Whitlock, Joe Cullen, Ian White and Darren Webster have furrowed their brows when they read this News . Did the PDC forget about them? White has been among the top 16 in the world rankings for several years now, while Cullen and Webster into the top 16 after good spells of form.
If you look to the nine substitutes, only two of them are ranked in the top 32 of the PDC Order of Merit; Henderson (20) and Hopp (32). Ten players in the top 20 of the world rankings didn't receive an invite for an event which involves 18 different players.
That is a devaluation of the Premier League Darts, a competition where people expect the world's very best darts players. Participation in this competition was more or less the highest achievement in darts, after winning the world title, because only the elite got an invitation. People will think differently about that now.
The PDC's initiative to give young and talented players an opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage in front of thousands of people is admirable. They have to get experience somewhere, and that's only possible to do by invitation in the Premier League and World Series.
Perhaps it would have been better to mix young and emerging players with high ranked players on the PDC Order of Merit as replacements for Anderson. This way, future stars get a chance to show where they are capable of, while more justice is done to the status of the Premier League. It's an interesting idea from the PDC to select different players, but it feels like the execution could have been much, much better.