Michael van Gerwen is unfazed about facing 15-time world champion Phil Taylor in tonight's World Darts Championship final at Alexandra Palace, with the prodigiously talented 23-year-old saying he barely knew who Taylor was when they first met seven years ago. They are well aware of each other now, though, with Taylor already anointing Van Gerwen as his successor as the game's next great player.
"I knew nothing at all about him," Van Gerwen said, looking back on his first meeting with Taylor when he was 16. "I only knew that he was, at that time, 14- or 13-times world champion."
Taylor's status within the game seems to mean less to Van Gerwen than it does to others, and the Dutchman admitted that when he was not playing he had little interest in how other players were doing.
"I don't like watching darts," Van Gerwen said. "Even now. Sometimes you have a nice game – like Phil Taylor is on against Raymond [van Barneveld] I will love to see that game, but most of the games I don't watch. I'm not bothered."
So Van Gerwen does not do deference. "I have been on the circuit now for around seven years, I have played them all a lot," he said of the game's biggest names. "So I am not bothered to play any big player. If you want to win the games, during the game you cannot have respect for anyone. Because then you won't win. You need to play your own game and just do what you want."
Van Gerwen is a very instinctive player, with a fast style that would look careless were it not so successful. "Everyone plays his own style," he insisted. "Otherwise you cannot throw. It is just natural. I just play my own game."
Taylor, who admitted yesterday he was "ashamed" of his behaviour at the end of Sunday's semi-final with Van Barneveld when he pushed the Dutchman in the chest before storming off, was 28 years old and established in the BDO when Van Gerwen was born. Even in his long career, he said had never seen anyone as good as the young man from Boxtel.
"He's brilliant," said Taylor. "I think he's playing the best darts I've ever seen anybody ever play in my career. I've seen Dennis Priestley at his best, which he could match Michael, and I've seen myself, but at the minute he's phenomenal.
"I wouldn't say he's a freak, but he's a Jonah Lomu. He's brilliant and it's going to take every little ounce of energy and concentration. He's the next one, without a shadow of a doubt."
On Sunday, Taylor and Van Barneveld appeared to exchange angry words after shaking hands at the end of "The Power's" 6-4 win, but Taylor insisted soon afterwards that the matter was forgotten.
"I'm disappointed with my behaviour," he said. "Raymond's a big lad and he has a strong handshake, and when he pulled me he it hurt me. I reacted wrongly and I'm ashamed of that because I really like Raymond,
"Nothing went on. None of us wanted to lose that. He was brilliant. He stuck in there. I said to Raymond backstage, 'There's nobody in this room who's a bigger fan of you than I am'. We're not going to fall out about anything. It's forgotten. It's done."