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The Literature of Soccer-Football, Volume II: Brilliant Orange

As a lover of literature and a lover of soccer-football, I'm on a quest to discover the best books about the sport. In each installment of this series I will review a different soccer book with an eye toward how it has helped me develop a greater understanding of the history, culture, tactics, and players of the game. Hopefully this series will serve as a game-plan for those looking to do the same...

Book: Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football

Author: David Winner

Rating: Three Points

What It's About: In a nutshell, Brilliant Orange is an examination of how Dutch culture influenced the unique style of football played in Holland and by the Dutch national team. In the late 60s and early 70s, the Dutch club team Ajax flourished under the leadership of superstar Johan Cruyff (say: Croif) and to some extent their manager Rinus Michels and created a soccer philosophy known as "Total Football." The main principles of Total Football are a.) relentless attack and b.) interchangeable positions--a goalie who comes out of the penalty area to play center midfield and orchestrate plays; strikers who play defense; backs who play offense, etc.

Much of the book focuses on the intricacies of Dutch culture that allowed this somewhat radical (at the time) idea of football to grow. Things like the lack of a landscape (Holland is very, very flat), a certain pervasive "communal" spirit, and -- oddly enough -- a guilt about being too good, are deeply rooted fibers in the fabric of Dutch society that, apparently, have had a profound effect on the development of Dutch soccer and unfortunately also on Holland's near-misses at international glory on the World Cup stage.

Who Should Read It: Not to mix metaphors too much, but this book is definitely "insider baseball"; for soccer junkies only. If the idea of spending 240 pages reading about Holland, Dutch history, Ajax, and Johan Cruyff doesn't raise your pulse, then do not read this book. On the other hand, if you're a student of the game -- including it's culture and history -- and you've ever wondered about that peculiar little country whose players wear orange and fly around the pitch scoring from 30 yards out and sucking-ass at penalties and who never seem to have quite what it takes to lift the cup...then yeah, read it. You'll learn a hell of a lot about Holland and its football history.

Highlights: If for no other reason, read it for Winner's fascinating look into the tragic (for the Dutch) World Cup of 1974 in which the Total Football-playing Dutch were expected to trounce the rest of the world and bring home the country's first World Cup Championship...which they almost did except for the final against West Germany in Munich which they lost, 2-1. It was a crushing defeat for the Dutch soccer ego, especially given all-too-recent geopolitical events (WWII) and the feeling that the 1974 Dutch team was Holland's golden generation. But there's much more to the story than that.

Throughout the book, Winner delves deep into the psychology of the Dutch people. If you're at all fascinated by such anthropological geekery, Brilliant Orange will be well worth the read. He talks about the effect of World War II on the Dutch psyche and how the lingering effects of the war, such as animosity toward the Germans and embarrassment over widespread collaboration with the Nazis, affected Holland in the post-war years and even up through the present day. He reaches far back into Dutch history to explain how geography became destiny, as early inhabitants had to work together to drain vast swaths of land and create dykes to make the land safe for habitation and how that spirit created a communal sense of shared civic responsibility in which  everyone pitches in for the good of the community, but at the same time someone who stands out too much from the crowd is looked down upon.


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