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Portugal's Second "Special One"


Photo: PDC (Professional Darts Corporation)


But hang on a minute! There’s only one “Special One,” and that’s José Mourinho.


Well, that may have been the case before, but Portugal now has its second “Special One,” the current World No. 7 darts player José de Sousa.


Even Mourinho admitted that himself in a special message to the Portuguese darts star:

“You’ve already stolen the “Special One” from me, but I’m very happy that you did. Your achievement was extraordinary, in fact, so extraordinary that you were [the first Portuguese darts player in history] to do it. I’m extremely proud of you. I hope we can meet one day so you can give me some tips, because I love playing darts, but I’m not very good.”


Whether impressing the raucous crowds at televised majors with his darting brilliance and relentless 180 hitting, his often lacklustre counting as he approaches three-dart out-shot territory, or by walking on to Pitbull’s “I know you want me,” there is no doubt that the Azambuja-born tungsten hurler is also worthy of this nickname.


Having become the first Portuguese darts player in history to win a major televised tournament in November 2020, when he defeated James Wade in the Grand Slam final in Coventry, de Sousa has taken the darting world by storm and catapulted Portuguese darts to a whole new level singlehandedly.


But who is José de Sousa? What’s his story?


In December 2020, the Portuguese sports broadcaster SPORT TV interviewed the former Grand Slam winner about his life as a darts player and how he got into the sport.


Where it all began

The Portuguese hadn’t even picked up a dart until the age of 26. In fact, he hadn’t even heard the word “darts” (“a seta” in Portuguese) until he was in his early twenties.


His friends asked him to go for a few drinks and play on the electronic board at his local bar, As Velhas, and the rest is history.


The Special One soon became hooked on the game, determined to make a name for himself, and that’s exactly what he’s done since 2019, when he quit carpentry to pursue a career in professional darts.


The key to his success

The great Phil Taylor raised standards in darts to unprecedented levels, levels that many players were unable to reach. In his time, it was Taylor and the rest, but that’s no longer the case. As his opponents were forced to raise their game to compete, the modern-day darting world is replete with players of a similar level who are all capable of beating each other. This makes it incredibly difficult to break into the top 32 of the PDC, never mind the top 10, so de Sousa’s rapid rise in the sport, a feat only paralleled in recent times by Jonny Clayton and Rob Cross, is truly remarkable.


But unlike Clayton, for instance, whose success is purely down to natural talent – it’s widely documented that the Welshman hates practising – de Sousa’s exploits are the result of hard work and pure dedication. The former carpenter puts in hours on end on the practice board and goes to great lengths to get his head in the game, driven by his ambition to top the PDC rankings. His dedication is also there for all to see on matchdays; he always arrives at the venue around four hours before going on stage, varying his grip and changing up his action until he feels completely comfortable with his throw.


A potential bump in the road

However, all this hard work was almost undone after it was discovered that the Portuguese used to play for one of the darts teams run by Kiko Fernandes, a recently convicted Spanish drug trafficker. José was as surprised as anyone upon hearing the news, having nothing but praise for the Spaniard, who helped kick-start de Sousa’s darting dream in his twenties. Although concerned that his connections with the convict would have a detrimental impact on his professional career, it was soon proven that de Sousa’s dealings with Fernandes were purely related to darts.


The barrier to further greatness

But this scare is not the only potential barrier to darting greatness for the Special One. The previous barrier may have been out of his hands, but his main barrier is self-inflicted: his poor counting. De Sousa has lost many legs, and even, crunch clashes through his careless counting. It may seem disrespectful to say that, but as a professional darts player, he must eradicate this tendency from his game, because knowing your out-shots and leaving nice finishes is a vital aspect of the sport.


Whenever he approaches three-dart out-shot territory, you have absolutely no idea whether the Portuguese will go for more conventional shots, such as treble 18 on 302 with leaving 170 in mind, or if he will do something outrageous, such as not going for the bull on 192 with his final dart in hand to leave a finish (the outer bull would leave 167 upon returning to the oche: T20, T19, Bull). He even decided to go D20, D20, D20 to take out 120 recently. Impressive yes, but certainly not recommended, especially if the first dart is high.


When asked about his counting on stage, the Portuguese blamed his mistakes on referees’ use of British English. Like many foreign speakers of English, de Sousa is more accustomed to the US variant, struggling with some of the idiosyncrasies of British English. This was apparent in one particular leg, when the Portuguese was left on 136. After hearing the referee announce his required check-out, the Special One went T19, T19, D6. It was an impressive shot, but that’s how you take out 126, not 136 (T20, T20, D8). Only de Sousa is capable of making such a pivotal error on the PDC circuit.


And the future?

Despite exiting the latest World Championship relatively early, and although the Portuguese failed to qualify for the latest edition of the Premier League, the future looks bright for José de Sousa. With several majors still to come in 2022, as well as the World Cup of Darts, in which he will be representing Portugal alongside Vítor Jerónimo, the Special Once still has the chance to continue writing darting history, but his counting will need to improve if he wishes to consistently compete against tungsten heavyweights, such as Peter Wright, Gerwyn Price, Jonny Clayton and Michael van Gerwen, and take his game to the next level.


Here are the links if you wish to read the full transcript or watch the Portuguese interview/documentary:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDZ8g_uIxpY

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