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Brilliant Orange [Hardcover]

David Winner
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 18 2002
Brilliant Orange is a book about Dutch soccer that's not really about Dutch soccer. It's more about an enigmatic way of thinking peculiar to a people whose landscape is unrelentingly flat, mostly below sea level, and who owe their salvation to a boy who plugged a fractured dike with his little finger. If any one thing, Brilliant Orange is about Dutch space, and a people whose unique conception of it has led to some of the most enduring art, the weirdest architecture, and a bizarrely cerebral form of soccer-Total Football-that led in 1974 to a World Cup finals match with arch-rival Germany, and continues with its intricacy and oddity to mystify and delight observers around the world.

"In the hot summer of 1975 Wim van Hanegem was offered the chance to leave his beloved Feyenoord and join the French club Olympique Marseilles. . . He couldn't decide what to do. . . So he turned to his dog: 'We can't decide. It's up to you now. If you want to go to Marseilles, bark or show me.' For several minutes the dog and Van Hanegem stared at each other. The dog didn't move. 'OK' said Wim, 'he doesn't want to go. We're staying."

The cast stretches from anarchists and church painters to rabbis and skinheads, and of course, to Holland's beloved soccer players, whose eccentricities are wryly detailed by David Winner through hilarious anecdotes that call to mind Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch. As idiosyncratic as its subject, quirky and provocative, Brilliant Orange reaches out to the reader from an unsuspected place and never lets go.

"Occasionally a book comes along that you fall in or out of love with on the basis of nothing more than the contents page . . . Brilliant Orange is one of those strangely informative books that will even entertain those who have little interest in either soccer or the Netherlands." (The Economist)

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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Soccer fans will not want to miss this chronicle of the rise of Total Football (soccer, of course, is known as football everywhere but in North America). What is Total Football? Here you have to get a little philosophical; you have to learn to handle phrases like "a new theory of flexible space" to wrap your mind around the idea that a football pitch isn't merely a big rectangle. The Dutch, who invented Total Football about three decades ago, are, according to Winner, a nation of special neurotics. Because space is always at a premium in their small country, they've learned to use it in wildly innovative ways. This is seen in their architecture, their art, their society--and their soccer. While other teams were playing the traditional every-player-in-his-position style of game, the plucky Dutch team called Ajax began playing a whole new game based on position-switching: defenders would suddenly become attackers and vice versa, thus substantially reducing the amount of repetitive back-and-forth running. This technique was revolutionary for its time (the 1960s), and it propelled Holland to the top of the soccer world. This extremely well written and exciting book, like Nick Hornby's immensely enjoyable Fever Pitch (1993), catches us up in its enthusiasm and puts us right there in the grandstands cheering for the Dutch coaches and players who changed the game of soccer forever. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


One of those strangely informative books that will... entertain those who have little interest in either soccer or the Netherlands. -- The Economist

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good book but I expected more April 1 2004
I would rate this book somewhere between 3 and 4 stars - it's almost one of those oddball classics. Judging by the title, I expected more insight into the strategy of Total Football or the Dutch soccer-playing style in general, an analytical explanation of why it works. Time and space are mentioned in general; perhaps it was foolish of me but I really did hope for a detailed spatial analysis.
Part of the problem is that David Winner at times does too much telling rather than showing. One of the earlier reviewers remarked that access to video footage would be helpful. I agree, especially when Winner just keeps telling the reader how brilliant and beautiful the Dutch playing style is without much description beyond those mere adjectives. On the other hand, there are sections where the description is quite vivid, like that of the Cruyff turn. But it still falls a bit short. This book would work much much better as a documentary. Or at least there could have been greater and better use of pictures and illustrations.
Another problem on the strategy front is when Winner tries to stretch certain ideas to the absolute limit. At one point he concludes that a player's ability to curl the ball on a free kick made the defensive wall useless in such a situation. Winner fails to notice that if the wall wasn't there, someone else would blast the ball straigth through to goal. When you're forced to pick your poison with let's say Real Madrid, surely you'd rather let Beckham curl it rather than give Roberto Carlos a direct shot. A few of Winner's exasperating conclusions almost made me give up on the book.
Luckily, for the most part, I continued reading. Despite my disappointments, the book does provide fascinating observations on Dutch history, culture, people, architecture, etc.
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By A. Ross
Make no mistake, this is a book about Dutch football-however, what makes it of at least passable interest to non-football fans is how Winner ranges into Dutch history, politics, art, architecture, and psychology in his attempt to explain why Dutch football is so different. In that sense, the book is quite a bit more "highbrow" than most. After starting with a brief history of Dutch soccer, Winner plunges full into the Dutch glory days of the late '60s to late '70s, when "total football" was king and Johan Cruyff was its master. The book's central idea is to try and suggest similarities between aspects of Dutch football and aspects of Dutch life, which when looked at together reveal something of the Dutch national character.
For example, one of these linkages is the shared timeframe for the birth of modern Dutch football and the progressive globalist nature of Holland, as exemplified by Amsterdam as we think of it now. Another is the lack of "killer instinct" or "win at all costs" mentalities (as evidenced by the national team's historical failure to win the big games), in favor or a more aesthetic mentality that values style or beauty over results. A third example is his discussion of the tension between society/team as a whole, and the individual/star. Winner splits his time between history and analysis (often very insightful), and interviews with former players, coaches, and non-football academic specialists and art critics. There are great tidbits here and there, such as a chapter about the Ajax club and why many of its supporters wave Israeli flags, which is intertwined with a capsule history of Dutch collaboration with Nazi occupiers and the Dutch collective memory of the war.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Glanzend, vermaak, beklemmt Oct. 29 2002
Unapologetically obsessive examination of both the Dutch national team, and the club team Ajax Amsterdam, from the origins of totaalvoetbal in the late '60s until Euro 2000. The author is David Winner, a Brit who lives in Amsterdam part-time. Winner attempts to uncover what he sees as a Dutch nation plagued by self-perpetuating pathologies related to WW2 and the Germans, democracy and its problems with committee decisions, space and the Dutch genius for creating it, and an unwillingness toward self-examination.
In a nutshell, the author suggests that Dutch society is reflected in its soccer. There are some ridiculously extraneous ideas here, such as (what I consider) filler material regarding the color orange, the seeming Dutch inability to win penalty kick shootouts, and the Jewish war experience in the Netherlands. However, the book really shines in Winner's many interviews with ex-players and managers. There are lots of great (and some contradictory) anecdotes about Cruyff, Van Basten, Rep, Rensenbrink, Keizer, Van der Gaal, and to a lesser extent Krol, Gullitt, Kluivert, and Bergkamp.
I would recommend this book only to those who are obsessed (at least mildly) with both soccer and Holland. Both worthy topics. The joy of the book is in its anecdotal fun, however; don't expect thesis material here.
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