Well-Written and Thoughtful Look at Total Football,
This review is from: Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer (Hardcover)
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?