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Good book but I expected more
on 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. and how they all relate to soccer. One of my favorite chapters was the one about Ajax and its Jewish links; I wish I knew about this when I was traveling in Amsterdam. Sometimes, though, the material gets a bit too academic, more in terms of writing style than analytical rigor - I could really do without the commentary from Uri Geller, puh-leez.
Overall, if you're a serious fan of soccer, this book's worth a read, in part because (aside from instructional material) there's very little of quality out there on this sport. I guess I've been spoiled by all the good baseball literature.