October 30, 2016

Brilliant Orange, illustrated

Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer
by David Winner
The Overlook Press, 2002

David Winner's book is nearly all that I could have hoped, and includes a July 2010 postscript written just before the World Cup Final in which Spain defeated the Netherlands 1-0.  Sadly, there's no additional commentary on the 2014 campaign, in which the Argentinians eliminated Team Orange in a shootout following a 0-0 tie in the semis.  But the tragi-comic story continues:  the Dutch continue to 'disappoint' late in the World Cup tournament, when in reality they have no right to be there at all given that their population is smaller than New York's.

The book raises many interesting questions.  How do we balance collective effort against individual genius?  Is it better to attack, defend, or wait for the best opportunity?  Is soccer a contest of wills or a space management exercise?  Can soccer be systematized?

My only complaint about Brilliant Orange is that it is not illustrated, at least no in my Kindle edition.  Herewith a few quotations I thought relevant and some excerpts from the book, with accompanying illustrations:

First Principles

  • A win by an unsound combination, however showy, fills me with artistic horror.
  • Only the player with the initiative has the right to attack.
  • When you have an advantage, you are obliged to attack; otherwise you are endangered to lose the advantage.
- William Steinitz, Chess Champion of the World 1886-1894


It was very cold and the pitch was very bad because of snow. The game itself was very bad. Germany’s goal was an own goal by Cor van der Hart. Abe Lenstra scored two goals for Holland, not very magnificent goals – just reflex shots from five yards – but the emotion was enormous. When we won 2-1, I saw my father jumping and crying because we’d beaten the world champions. There must have been between six and eight thousand Dutchmen there, and they invaded the pitch and carried the players on their shoulders. In the train going back, everybody was celebrating wildly. I’d never seen my father like that – he’d gone mad, singing and dancing. Later I realised it was because of the war, because of the feeling about the Germans. It was a very strong feeling for all the people there, that we had some kind of revenge for everything they had done to us. Nowadays my father says I understood it wrongly: that it was just about soccer. But it was more than soccer alone.We have to admit that one of our weak points is that we always have to start talking about the war and about revenge when we play against the Germans, no matter what the sport is. I wrote after 1974 that for me it was over; we don’t have to talk about those things anymore. But in 1956, it was understandable. My father had been in the war – he had been put in prison for a short while. The game made him so happy. There was light in his eyes.
- Kees Jansma

The Avatar

The sayings of Cruyff are strange but sometimes very beautiful. He said: 'Every disadvantage has its advantage.' If you want to be intellectual, you can say that is dialectics in its most pure form.
- Hubert Smeets, Dutch intellectual

The sheer beauty of Dutch play was a revelation. Cruyff was the star, of course, a graceful human whiplash dancing away from tackles, ripping defences with his speed, guiding sumptuous passes around the field, exhorting and instructing teammates.
- David Winner

Dutch football is based on the equality of all the players. It cannot be built, say, only around Johan Cruyff. Even with Cruyff it was not built around Cruyff. When it worked well, it was a team of equals with everyone expecting each other to be equal. For the team to work, the team has to be the star, not the players.
- Jan Benthem

I’ve always thought possession is nine-tenths of the game, and Ajax played possession football. It was lovely. I used to just sit back and relax. After a game I’d think: 'Crikey, that was good'.
- Vic Buckingham, Team Ajax trainer 1959-61, 1964-65

Without the ball, you can't win.
- Johan Cruyff

The Decline and Rise

[Van Der Meer] shows me another picture...the moment when the world understood that Van Gaal’s Bosman-ravaged Ajax was finished — is captured in a single image. Four black-and-white-shirted Juventus players — Lombardo, Zidane (who has the ball at his feet), Inzaghi and Vieri — are attacking in a neat curved line five metres from the Ajax penalty area. Facing them are just two Ajax defenders, Bogarde and Mario Melchiot. Goalkeeper Van der Sar is on his line. Juventus won the match 2 - 1 and later crushed Ajax 4 - 1 in the second leg in Turin... What can be more dramatic than this? Four Italian attackers converging on two Dutch defenders. It’s a terrifying image.’
- David Winner

Twenty years ago, as Barcelona coach, Cruyff began a process that has transformed Spanish football. The Iberians, once renowned for their fighting football and brutal defenders, now specialise in exquisite quick passing and all-round creativity.
- David Winner

You know, there was always a tension between Cruyff’s vision and normal pragmatic football. He made what he did seem so normal that others thought they could do it too. But they can’t do it. So, how long will it last?...  Did you ever see the beautiful little haiku-like poem Xander van der Drift wrote for Johan magazine? [a football magazine of the late 90s and early 2000s named after Cruyff] He wrote it in 1999, and I agree with it very much. He meant Cruyff is our giant, and it will hit us one day. It goes: “Question of the 21st Century: where were you when Johan Cruyff died?”
 - David Winner


Post a Comment

<< Home