Brilliant Orange

The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer

David Winner, 2008(2000), The Overlook Press

Soccer has a lot to owe the Netherlands because they introduced the beautiful and successful attacking soccer to the world, which provided the blueprint for today’s most successful teams with their ball possession play. Furthermore the country is a constant source of world-class soccer players, which play in all big leagues in Europe and it constantly competes above its weight in European and World Cup Finals, as Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski showed.
Nevertheless the Dutch have the impression that they miss out on big titles, especially with the national team and therefore a lot of legends were created why that is. David Winner takes up these stories and tries to understand why the Dutch national team is not able to win big international titles and how that is connected with the personality and society of the Dutch.
The center of gravity of the book and probably of all complaining about the failure of the men in orange is the World Cup Final 1974 which was probably the only final the Dutch team would “have deserved to win” based on the opinion of the experts, although they reached the final game far more often. Therefore all excursions into the Dutch psyche always circle back to this one game. At the beginning that is interesting, at the end it becomes to repetitive and you wonder if nothing has changed in the years after. It has and the author describes that shortly in some chapters which were probably added in the later editions of the book. But especially after the World Cup 2010 when the Dutch focused more on dirty in-fights than playing and were beaten by Spain with their own former way of playing, all the explanations why the men in orange always play beautiful and can never win anything with it do not hold true anymore.
Nevertheless, the book provides a nice description of the Dutch society, which, from the outside, looks very liberal but is in reality very conservative. As someone who worked for years with Dutch colleagues and always had problems with their “I know everything better” attitude and their lack of team spirit (meaning to subordinate your wishes and opinions under the team’s goals) , it was very insightful to understand where that comes from and how the Dutch society makes it work. Furthermore it was very interesting to learn how architecture and other art forms express the typical Dutch way of living.
The book is an interesting read if you want to learn more about the Dutch society and way of live and you don’t mind to read about soccer as a starting point for the discussions. The soccer part itself is a little bit outdated because the Dutch game has finally moved away from the standards set in the seventies.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 3/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 1/3


Star-Spangled Soccer

The selling, marketing and management of soccer in the USA

Gary Hopkins, 2010, Palgrave Macmillan

I have to start this review with a warning. If you have the opinion that commercialization is bad for soccer and that financial analysts should have no say in the clubs, then better don’t read this book. Star-Spangled Soccer is the story how soccer was revived in the US after the World Cup 1994. That may sound romantic but in reality it was the search for a sustainable business model for a soccer league and its clubs.
If an author would have written the history of US soccer as a drama beginning of the nineties the storyline could not have been more fitting for a movie than it was in reality. Coming on the world stage with the bang of the World Cup 94, then a delayed but still successful start of the soccer league, everything was on the edge and close to collapse and to finally make a turn into a happy end. An happy end not too kitschy with world domination but at least with a league with a stable fan base and a constantly growing number of teams. Hopkins describes all that in detail. He seems to have a lot of background information about the events and he writes about them in an entertaining style. The data and financial information he shows are always spot on. They never get boring but move the story along and make it clear to the reader, why you have to see soccer as a business model when you want to start with a professional league, which can be taken serious. Growing from grass root movements doesn’t work when you don’t have 100 years and especially in the US grass root organization diversify so quickly that growth rather diverts them than bringing them together under one roof. Therefore you have to think big at the beginning.
The book also works well as a history book, especially for nineties, but it also provides rare insights,e.g., into the youth soccer systems in the US, which works quite differently than in Europe and its lack of success. Although one might not think it, when one starts to read chapter titles like “Selling Soccer to America”, Hopkins is a soccer expert and he has good suggestions at hand at the end of the book, how the success story can be further moved forward and not only in financial terms.
Comparing the book with Bamboo Goalposts and the failure of establishing soccer in China shows nicely, how it can be done and how better not to do it. It makes no sense to try to use an accelerated model of how Europe established their soccer leagues. Modern times need modern methods to create some excitement about a newly introduced sport, that means you need sponsoring, you need TV coverage, you need soccer stadiums and you need stars. Without some business model behind it that is impossible to achieve. Gary Hopkins shows in his book how it can be done.

Biography: 0/3
History: 3/3
Background: 3/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Feet of the Chameleon

The Story of African Football

Ian Hawkey, 2009, Portico Books

Ian Hawkey’s book, which was published just before the first World Cup on the African continent is a kaleidoscopic view on the soccer history of Africa. When you are interested to learn more about African soccer the book is a good starting point to get information about all the different major topics which make you better understand the state and development of the game on the black continent. Topics like the myriads of youth academies, which make money out of the dreams of many kids and families, the constant drain of talent, so that the domestic leagues do not have a high enough quality to be interesting to the fans because they watch the best African players in the Premier League on TV, the distrust against home-grown coaches, so that always before major tournaments European or South American coaches are hired or the strong influence of mystics on the team, which replace the psychologists usually employed by European teams. All this is covered, mostly in a descriptive way woven into the continuous story of the performance of the national teams in the African Cup of Nations and World cup finals. Aside from the pure sport, there are also stories told how soccer was tied to politics, whether it was in the independence movement of Algeria, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa or the rise of dictators like in Zaire.
The book is not going into depths to better understand the structural problems, like it was done in Ich werde rennen wie ein Schwarzer,… or in several issue of the Blizzard (#1,#3,#4,#5), but it allows you to find the topic or team you are interested and to dig deeper at a later time. Therefore “Feet of the Chameleon” is a good read, the stories are told very well and it provides a nice overview about the a parts of soccer history, which are hardly told in the mainstream media.

Biography: 0/3
History: 2/3
Background: 1/3
Tactics & Game philosophy: 0/3

Next book: Modernes Passspiel (German, March 27th)