Brilliant Orange

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Football (2001) by David Winner is a strange book filled with endless praise for Dutch football. The book does describe the way that Dutch football went from a backwater of European soccer to being an important part of it.

The book is ostensibly about soccer but much of the book is spent attempting to make connections between Dutch architecture and Dutch society. There is something in this, but when attempts are made to try and make out that Dutch football has been inspired by Dutch architecture it falls in to a heap.

Dutch football was not professional and lagged behind even the English game until the 1960s. Holland then went professional and adopted the latest tactics and expanded on them and became successful. The Dutch were in two World Cup finals in the 1970s and lost them both to the home countries. The Ajax team of the early 1970s was extremely successful.

Dutch total football is described in the book euphorically as being brilliant and creative and an entirely new force. Similar styles that evolved in the Soviet Union and in Germany are ignored and even disparaged. The role that becoming professional at this time and greater fitness played in the tactics is little discussed. The role that performance enhancing drugs may have played in the football is also not mentioned.

The footballers interviewed are staggeringly arrogant, described how they were by far the best team in 1974 and 1978 and how they should have won everything. The fact that they didn’t win anything until 1988 and there won a tournament also won by Denmark and Greece is not reflected on.

The demographics of teams that win the World Cup, which is an important factor that provides a lot of explanation as to who wins is given no attention.

The book is worth a read, finding out about the Provos and the changes in Dutch society from the 1950s to the 1960s is interesting as are the recollections of the players of the great Dutch teams of the 1970s. The unquestioning praise of Dutch football by Winner lets the book down though.

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