Premier League watch: Four players with PL experience seeking another call-up in 2018

In the final part of this three-part series, I look at four players who have played in the Premier League before, but have been infrequent participants recently. I make a case for them getting a return to the Premier League in 2018, as well as a case against.

Michael Smith

The Case For

Michael Smith may have deserved a spot in the Premier League in 2016, but he never seemed ready for the week-in, week-out gruel of the competition. He’s bounced back, however, in 2017, winning a European Tour title and reaching two other Pro Tour finals. He’s reached 15 quarter-finals or better on the Pro Tour in 2017, in addition to the last 16 in the UK Open. And he should be in the top 10 of the world by the end of the year, despite having a poor 2016 on his ranking. It’s been a Premier League season to date.

The Case Against

But what has he done on television? He went out first round of the World Matchplay to an out-of-form Steve West, and he followed that up without a victory over a tour card holder in the three World Series events in New Zealand and Australia. As he said when he was on the Weekly Dartscast, all that matters for Premier League is your TV form, and so far he hasn’t shown it in 2017. If the Premier League was based on European Tour, he’d be a lock. But it’s not, and he has a lot of work still to do.

Jelle Klaasen

The Case For

Klaasen was never given a fair shake in 2017. He should have gotten an invite in 2016, but was snubbed. Instead, he was called into action whilst injured and never got off the ground. Since having surgery in May, his form has slowly improved, and he’s made a good account of himself on then European Tour this past month. Granted, he needs to have a few months where he shows he’s back to where he was before his wrist injury, but fairness dictates he gets another shot.

The Case Against:

Everything I just said, but in reverse. Yes, Klaasen got a raw shake of the dice, but those are the breaks, and there are no free passes in darts until you’ve established yourself as consistently one of the faces of the game. Klaasen, all due respect, hasn’t yet. And while he has injury to blame for a subpar Premier League campaign, all that is on paper is an excuse. He has struggled mightily at times this year and has looked eons away from someone who merits a Premier League invite.

Kim Huybrechts

The Case For

Okay, he didn’t get a win in the Premier League, but he played very well for most of the campaign, despite competing whilst his mother was terminally ill. He made it to the quarter-final of the UK Open, and has consistently made it deep into tournaments both on the floor and the Euro Tour. I think Huybrechts was given a raw deal heading into the Premier League this year, with many questioning his inclusion. But he showed he belonged over the eight weeks he participated. And everything considered, it would be harsh to drop him so quickly.

The Case Against

Before reaching the final in Riesa this past weekend, in 30 matches on stage since the World Championship, Kim Huybrechts had won just eight times, including losses to Pete Hudson, Jan Dekker, Christian Kist, and James Wilson. In the 19 matches on stage since the end of the Premier League, before last weekend, he averaged under 93 nine times, against just one average over the ton. Before Riesa he had lost his last five matches on stage, and hadn’t beaten anyone ranked higher than 28 in any competition since mid-May. Nothing he’s done the last six months before Riesa rings Premier League. It barely even rings Championship, if not League One.

Simon Whitlock

The Case For

What a run that was for Whitlock at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, winning five Pro Tour titles in the space of four months. And right in the middle of that, he missed a dart at double 15 to knock Michael van Gerwen out of the European Championship, the only time anyone came close to the world number one in a ranking major in 2016. Okay, he hasn’t gone on and made a deep, deep TV run like he used to do with regularity, but there’s only so many times you can run into Michael van Gerwen before the draw comes kind to you. He’s shown he’s yet again an elite player.

The Case Against

“He’s shown again he’s an elite player.” No, he hasn’t. He’s shown he has the game to be an elite player, but he hasn’t followed up on it. Since the last of those five Pro Tour titles in March, Whitlock has failed to cash at eight Pro Tour events, while reaching the quarter-final or better just five times. He only won one match against the seeded players from three World Series events last month, and outside the UK Open—where he was off TV most of the way—still hasn’t had a real sustained televised run in a few years. While there’s little doubt Whitlock will make a good showing of himself if he is selected, he has to earn it first. It’s hard to say he has.


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