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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.
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on December 26, 2002
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.
Lots of neat stuff here, but it's a little hard to get into without having access to video (or at least memories) of some of the pivotal games under discussion, such as the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals. Winner can explain the "total football" concept as eloquently as possible (which he does), but I think you have to see it to "get" it. And in that sense, the book is a little bit of a failure. Maybe one day it can be reissued with a companion DVD?
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on October 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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on May 30, 2002
Brilliant Orange is more than just a history of Dutch football. It cleverly links the Dutch idea of football to art, architecture, culture, politics and philosophy. The book uses interviews with top Dutch footballers such as Ruud Krol, Johnny Rep and Dennis Bergkamp to provide a fascinating insight into a unique culture in which football plays an integral part. The chapters describing 'Total Football' during the 1970's are particularly interesting however the book can become a little tedious when it wanders from the topic of football.
I enjoyed this book a lot because it is original, unconventional and informative. It is easy to read and provides a useful introduction for anybody wanting to learn about this most intriguing of footballing nations. The book will interest people who are interested in the ideas behind football rather than a simple narrative history of football in Holland.
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on March 11, 2015
A bit of a slow moving book but if you love the game in any way, shape, or form, and you don't mind being "challenged" when you read, then this is a sublime choice, especially if, like me, you have always been fascinated by the Dutch machine!
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on February 28, 2003
Entertaining book. You gotta be a big soccer fan, with some sense of the history of the game to enjoy it, but if you are...
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on July 9, 2004
For its entertainment value, its creativity, its humor, and its depth of insight, this is perhaps the best book ever written on soccer. One should be familiar in general with Dutch football tactics and history to get the most out of it, but even if you aren't, it's still highly engaging.
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