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on 30 June 2000
Firstly let me get one thing straight - I'm not a football fan and I have no real interest in the Dutch. But with Brilliant Orange, David Winner seems to have cast these minor inconveniences aside and written a masterful analysis of the Dutch psyche, using football, (and specifically the 1970's team of Cruyff, Kieser, Rep et al) as a counterpoint to their particular and sometimes peculiar ways. Winner has really done his research - he brings in subjects as far and wide as "art and architects, cows and canals, anarchists, church painters, rabbis and airports", and deftly weaves them into the rich tapestry of footballing history. His real skill, however, is in bringing the matches to life and demonstrating the artistry of the game. I wasn't even born when the Cruyff team of 1974 lost against the German's in the World Cup final, but how I want to go back and see the match now.
Winner manages to explain the Dutch flair, their inventiveness, their spatial awareness, their internal wranglings and their inevitable defeat at the hands of lesser opponents. (take their losing to the Italians in last night's semi-final as a perfect example) There's something of the grace of the Dutch footballing style in Winner's writing too; a light anecdotal touch by turns endearing, personal and very funny, which enables him to really engage the reader. Even if you're not a Dutch loving football-aficionado, this is a must read!
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on 30 June 2005
For years my friends have wondered why I was so obsessed about the Dutch and their football (I'm a Malaysian living in England!). I struggled to make them understand but this book explains why so brilliantly. The Dutch play football so breathtakingly (when things are going well) but have so little success to show for it. Strangely, it is this frustrating underachievement that makes them so fascinating. In many ways, their well-documented self-destruction is very much a reflection of their culture (not just the footballing one). There are sections in the book where Dutch football legends would say "if only the Dutch had this , if only they had that...on top of their skill...they would be perfect footballers". But that would take away their Dutchness...
One thing's for sure though...the day they finally win the World Cup, it won't be just the Dutch fans who would be would mark the fulfilment of one of the greatest footballing phenomenons.
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on 18 December 2001
Brilliant Orange, by David Winner, has to rank as one of the best soccer books I have read
in a long time. This is a book with brains spilling out over the edge. It is much
more than a story about Dutch Soccer. It is an inquiry into how ideas and philosophies
present in Dutch society underpinned some of the greatest teams and players to
have ever played the game. While it is an entertaining and stimulating read, it
also manages to be instructive technically and tactically. Coaches and players
will find this book very useful in terms of identifying what it takes to play
the game at its highest level. And what fascinated me the most was Winner's study
of beauty and the idea of the Beautiful Game. If you want to best understand what
the Beautiful Game is about, you may want to read this book before any others
on the subject, including Pele's My Life and the Beautiful Game.
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on 21 August 2005
Solely by looking at the title of this book, 'Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football', you notice that this book simply could not have been written by Dutchman. The Dutch are often too polite to give themselves compliments, let alone write a whole book about how 'neurotically genius' and beautiful their own football is. That is why I'm so thankful that David Winner, the author of this book, admires Dutch football as much as I do and has dared to write a book about it.
Much of the beginning of the book consists of why Dutch football might be the way it is. Winner tries to find parallels between Dutch society, and the way they play football. Dutch football is based around the principle of collectivism and totality; everybody is expected to perform little tasks, and if they don't then they let down the whole team. If a left-back for example decides to join the attack, a midfielder is expected to momentarily take his place in the defense. If he doesn't, he leaves the defense vulnerable to attack, hence letting down the whole team.
Winner argues that this type of collectivistic attitude in football can be traced back to when the Dutch first started reclaiming land and building dikes. These were massive ordeals that could only progress smoothly when everyone flawlessly worked together. If one person didn't carry out his/her task properly, a large part of the country would be at risk of being flooded. Hence it required intense concentration and collaboration, characteristics which can both be seen in Dutch football.
Secondly, Dutch invented 'Total Football' is also based around the concept of manipulating space to your advantage. When in possession, you want to make the spaces as big as possible by playing to your wingers and standing far apart. This makes it extra hard for the opposition to defend. When not in possession, you want to make spaces as small as possible by standing very close together making it difficult for the opposition to penetrate. Winner argues that this concept derives from the fact that the Dutch live in such a small geographical area with so many people they always had to make the most efficient use of their space.
Towards the end of the book, Winner tries to investigate why the Dutch have always been 'underperformers' in football. Judged solely on the quality of their players, Winner argues that they should have won at least four World Cups (namely in 1974,1978, 1990, and 1998). However, Winner argues that they simply don't have the 'winning' mentality and they believe that playing attacking and attractive football is actually more important than winning. The Dutch team has also often been plagued by internal conflicts. Since the Dutch team is based so much on the collectivistic nature as explained before, internal conflicts can be fatal. They are also a quite common occurrence as Dutch players (or Dutch people in general) find it very hard to take orders from an authoritarian figure (coach). These often spark conflicts and cause the Dutch team to disintegrate.
Arrogance also plays a factor in their underperformance. Winner argues that before the Dutch even start a football game, they believe that they deserve to win because their footballing style is so much superior to that of the rest of the world. When they are leading a football game, such as in the World Cup final in 1974 against Germany, they make the mistake of believing to have already won it. Instead of pressing for another goal, they started mocking the Germans by outplaying them with their superior 'technical' skills, but failed to press for another goal. This aggravated the Germans, and forced them back into the game, eventually winning with 2-1.
Futhermore the book also explains the origins of the intense rivalry between the Dutch and the Germans. It also gives a brief overview of the most important international games played by the Dutch team. It sincerely deserves 5 stars, and is a suggested read for any football fan.
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on 30 October 2001
This is quite simply one of the finest football books written in years. The first indepth study of football in Holland and the pecularities and style of that football so quintessentially Dutch. Winner examines the finer points of Dutch football (without being side-tracked by the Ajax Academy) and what makes Dutch football so different, so unique, by examining it in its historical and social context as well as its sporting context. Ajax, Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels, the heartbreak of the 1974 World Cup Final, the Dutch football mentality and the Dutch national team's record at taking penalties (which, incredibly, is worse than England's) are all examined thoroughly yet succinctly. The interviews with Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol and Dennis Bergkamp top off a fascinating book that is very rereadable.
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on 15 March 2002
An excellent insight into Dutch football, especially the Ajax and Dutch teams of the 70s. Also using the views and opinions of Dutch artists and architects, as well as Dutch footballing legends puts a whole new spin on looking at the Dutch style of football. The chapter on the Dutch fear of penalties makes for the most interesting reading, and certainly makes the English aversion seem small in comparison. The only criticism is that sometimes the analogies are a little over the top, suggesting that the Dutch style of football is a direct result of the geography of the Netherlands being my favourite example. That said this is still an excellent read, especially if you have an admiration for beautiful football.
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on 2 August 2002
Just try to think of all the questions you might ask about Dutch football from its origins to its lack of competitive strenght in crucial matches. Brilliant Orange has the answers. Based on interviews and on his own life experience in the country, David Winner present the readers with a masterpiece that goes far beyond the mere "how Cruyff was fantastic thing" and suggest that the famous total football theory is a consequence of a cross over between arts, philosohy and sports. The book makes you clap you hands harder for the Dutchmen's legacy.
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on 16 July 2002
This is an excellent book. In the same way that Nick Hornby's "Fever Pitch" is about so much more than just 'being a football fan', this is as much about the Dutch people and their fantastic little country (my wife and I love it so much we've moved here) as it is about their footballers.

Winner does really well to find credible links between Dutch 'total' football, and the way the Dutch organise themselves, in particular how they make use of what little space they have. Since the Netherlands is the 2nd most densely populated country in the world, space is at a premium here, just as it is on the football pitch. So one fine passage notes how Dennis Bergkamp's *genius* for defence-splitting through balls relates to how the Dutch use their land: efficiently, perceptively, decisively, brilliantly. (Before the pass the pitch is crowded and narrow; after the pass it is wide open.)

Winner also deals very well with the 'Lost Final of 1974, and the complex Dutch attitudes toward their neighbours, the Germans, and their curious ambivalence toward actually *winning* tournaments rather than being universally lauded as the best team (1974, 1978, 1998, 2000).

And looming large over it all is the marvellous Johann Cruyff (which is pronounced, correctly, to rhyme with 'Slough' I've discovered!), a man of fabulously contradictory insights, my personal favourite being:
"If I wanted you to understand, I would have explained it better."

Definitely worth a read. And the country is definitely worth a visit (and get out of Amsterdam too).
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on 20 March 2010
Beckenbauer was once asked a question about Cruyff and his answer was "Johann was a much better footballer than me, but I won the World Cup". You probably get some answer there about the difference between Dutch and German football, Holland play the attractive stuff, and Germany wins. This is to oversimplify of course - Holland is a far smaller country than Germany and its success is way above that of other countries of similar size and this book explores the reasons for that. Is it because Holland is very flat and therefore suits the development of football fields? Is it because through the Bauhaus movement the Dutch have an unusual understanding of geometry and therefore space which applies equally to the football field? Somewhere in there, there is a reason and this book has some interesting vignettes on some of the long forgotten heroes of yesteryear when Ajax dominated European football which may help explain Holland's unusual tendency to create footballers of a brilliance that only Brazil can rival and equally explain how such brilliance has only yielded one major international championship. As van Basten himself once put it winning is important but to win beautifully that is the most important thing; no doubt Beckenbauer would agree with the first part of that viewpoint.
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on 31 July 2006
If the originality of the cover of this book is what attracted you to David Winner's excellent football book, then that is just a taste of what to expect. Surprisingly original and at times very abstract, Winner has managed to craft a book of spectacular inventiveness, combining examninations of Dutch architecture and insightful looks at Dutch football, Winner has created not only a dazzling look at Dutch football, but Dutch society aswell by using football as a looking-glass. I can't rate this book highly enough. An essential purchase.
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