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Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer Hardcover – April 18, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Soccer fans will not want to miss this chronicle of the rise of Total Football (soccer, of course, is known as football everywhere but in North America). What is Total Football? Here you have to get a little philosophical; you have to learn to handle phrases like "a new theory of flexible space" to wrap your mind around the idea that a football pitch isn't merely a big rectangle. The Dutch, who invented Total Football about three decades ago, are, according to Winner, a nation of special neurotics. Because space is always at a premium in their small country, they've learned to use it in wildly innovative ways. This is seen in their architecture, their art, their society--and their soccer. While other teams were playing the traditional every-player-in-his-position style of game, the plucky Dutch team called Ajax began playing a whole new game based on position-switching: defenders would suddenly become attackers and vice versa, thus substantially reducing the amount of repetitive back-and-forth running. This technique was revolutionary for its time (the 1960s), and it propelled Holland to the top of the soccer world. This extremely well written and exciting book, like Nick Hornby's immensely enjoyable Fever Pitch (1993), catches us up in its enthusiasm and puts us right there in the grandstands cheering for the Dutch coaches and players who changed the game of soccer forever. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


One of those strangely informative books that will... entertain those who have little interest in either soccer or the Netherlands. -- The Economist

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Books (April 22, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585672580
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585672585
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,968,032 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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By A Customer on October 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. It is not just about the success of the Dutch soccer team! The author successfully weaves political themes, history, and a general sense of culture into a nation's values and sense of self. My mom's side is mostly Dutch and I visited the Netherlands two years ago, I have a much greater appreciation for what "being Dutch" means and how it influences my choices and behaviors. I never had heard or read what the Dutch people did to their own Jewish residents during the Nazi occupation! So scary how close they came to a larger domination of society! I have given this book to my mom to read and she knows nothing about soccer. I believe she is going to very much enjoy it!
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Format: Paperback
First a list of all the things this book is not about

This won't give you all the records and statistics of Dutch football.

Doesn't have a chronological history of the game in the country. Doesn't talk in detail about all their great players, great matches or great clubs. To sum it up, this book isn't the best preparatory material for a quiz on Dutch football. You might even end up in last place.

In that sense, it is quite unlike most of the books written about a country or a club's football history and culture. In fact, the writer often goes on for pages without even talking about football, forget Dutch football. And yet, it is in my humble opinion ( as well as that of most people who write reviews on Amazon.com and [...]) quite easily the best book on Dutch football.

Because David Winner's book deals with something much more profound and goes much deeper in its investigation.

It talks about the mental makeup of the Dutch nation - why they are what they are?

It does a very good job of explaining a lot of other Dutch peculiarities - and I use that word because the Dutch are the antithesis of a conformist regular normal world. And in doing so it answers the questions about Dutch football. Why and how the Dutch came up with Total Football? Why the Dutch lose all the important matches? Why the players always get into fights? Why it is wrong to call the Netherlands the Brazil of Europe? The Dutch concept of nationalism and patriotism? And the Dutch definition of a good footballer?

If Dutch football was a living person then this book makes it very clear that the head is the most important organ; more valuable than the feet. And then it does what Freud would have tried to do - study the person's head.
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