Michael Smith plots World Darts Championship glory and early retirement

Michael Smith plots World Darts Championship glory and early retirement

12/21/2021

Michael Smith believes it is a question of when not if he will win the World Darts Championship and can then retire happily long before his 50th birthday.

Still only 31-years-old, Smith will be playing in his 11th consecutive World Championship campaign this year, coming closest to lifting the trophy in 2019 when he made it to the final before losing to Michael van Gerwen.

Bully Boy has long been seen as a future major winner, and despite still waiting for his first significant piece of silverware in the PDC, his confidence is rock solid that he will get over the line and that could open the floodgates.

There is little doubt in his mind that he will be crowned world champion one day, and if that is before he turns 40 then it will be an early retirement to concentrate on the family life he has missed out on over his darts career so far.

‘I joined the PDC straight from school, been on the circuit about 13 years now, so I’m one of the veterans on tour,’ Smith told Metro.co.uk.

‘I’ve got 20 years in me if I’m not a world champion, but when I win the Worlds, as long as it’s before I’m 40 it’ll take five or 10 years off retirement.

‘I always said 50, but if I’m world champion it would be 40-45, then I’ve got time to spend time with the kids. Lockdown wasn’t nice for lots of people, but for me, going from seeing my kids once or twice a week to spending all the time with them, it was a Godsend.

‘In the Premier League for five months you’ve just got Tuesdays at home that’s it, I missed my kids walking, speaking, doing everything, so it was nice to have a full six months with them.’

Smith has endured the pain of World Championship final defeat, while also losing in the showpiece match at the World Matchplay, Premier League, Masters, World Cup and World Series Finals.

The lack of a major title remains a monkey on his back but he is only looking forward and sees the success of his rivals later in their careers as a reason to relax.

‘If I keep thinking: “What if? What if?” then there’s no point playing. You get rid of one game and look forward to the next one,’ he said.

‘I know I’ll make more finals and when that winning double does go in I can forget the eight tournaments I’ve lost in and just look forward to the next eight that I win. It’s just putting things behind you and learning that way.

‘You can see what’s happened to [Jonny] Clayton this year. He won the Masters then three more TV events. Same with [Gerwyn] Price, got the Grand Slam and then all those others. It’s just getting that first one. Peter Wright won his first tournament in his 40s, [Gary] Anderson did, so I’m in no rush, I’ve got plenty of years left.’

Smith gets his Alexandra Palace campaign underway on Tuesday evening against Ron Meulenkamp and feels in the best place he has been in since reaching the final.

‘I’ve thought it would be the year to be world champion every year apart from the last two. I had too much on my mind with some issues with my old manager and then buying a house, but my head’s clear now.

‘When I beat Phil [Taylor] in 2013, I was only 23 and I thought, “I can play now, I can play with the big lads.” I know Phil wasn’t at his best, but he was 15 times world champion at that time, so I knew I could do it.

‘In 2016 I missed a dart to beat Barney and make the semis, then I got to the final, so it’s coming. It’s just about keeping that focus and belief. Have that dream of being the world champion and don’t let it go.

‘The Worlds is the ultimate thing, the rest of the year you don’t care. Obviously it would be nice to win the UK Open or the Grand Prix but everyone wants that World Championship. That’s what you work on for 12 months.

‘I’m relaxed going into it but I want it desperately.’

The St Helens star wants it desperately because it has always been his goal, no more so because he has fallen short in finals before.

He is regularly reminded of his record in finals, and while he has no problem with his past, it is the sometimes constant questions about it that can prove too much.

‘I don’t mind, what I’ve done is part of my history and I’ve got to learn to lose before I can learn to win,’ he said.

‘It did annoy me before, I think it was the Matchplay final that I lost and I broke down in interviews. I had eight people asking the same question every time about how it feels to lose so many finals. Someone asked it again and I went, I started swearing, Dave Allen [PDC media manager] had to drag me out.

‘The first few questions are fine, but when it’s the fourth, fifth sixth the same, I looked at him and went: “Are you bloody serious? You’ve had the answer six times, why are you asking it again?” I just saw red and kicked off.

‘You’ve got to be careful because you say one bad thing and that’s what goes on the caption on Facebook or Twitter and people don’t click the article, they just read that. But that’s what anti-social media is all about.’

Smith can cut an angry figure on the stage at times, seemingly frustrated with himself more than anything, but he says it is all part of a motivational technique. One that he is now discarding.

‘When I first started I had to get really angry and pissed off,’ he explained. ‘I was never giving up I was just forcing myself to be angry and wanting to beat people on stage.

‘When I play Anderson or Whitey [Ian White] or someone, you go up there as a friend, so I piss myself off to try and hate him and that was always my thing. Now I’m trying to keep calm, tell myself it’s a pay cheque for my kids.’

The world number nine has his children as a constant motivation on the oche, but also went through a particularly grim experience to discover his hunger for the sport, which was waning at an early age.

‘Christmas Eve when I was 19, I slipped on the ice, put my hands down and snapped both my wrists,’ Smith said. ‘I was in casts for five or six months. I couldn’t do anything, showering with two casts was the worst.

‘I was in PDC then, but I could never get past last 16, I came back from breaking my hands, a few months later I won my first PDC event.

‘It was the best thing I ever did, I wanted to pack it in, I felt I was okay but not going anywhere, but breaking my hands I got that fight and hunger.

‘I’m not clever enough to go and get a proper job, at least this one can pay for practice and stuff, so I just went mad, battered the board and it worked.

‘You never realise what you’ve got till it’s gone, I didn’t know what darts meant to me till I broke my hands. Then two months later I won a ProTour, beat Chizzy [Dave Chisnall] in the final.’

Smith has now taken his PDC title tally to 14 but is still searching for a first major crown. That search takes him to Ally Pally on Tuesday where Meulenkamp waits.

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