Upon Re-reading – Brilliant Orange: The neurotic genius of Dutch football, by David Winner


I first read David Winner’s Brilliant Orange fifteen year ago. My first motives for reading the book were naive. I was an aspiring professional footballer. I’d read any book I could find on football, hoping to discover a professional path to imitate. It proved to be an impossible profession. When you’re sixteen, you have no hint to how the world works. You believe, and rightly so, that anything is possible. At nineteen I accepted my lifetime amateur footballer card. I continued my reading however, searching for inspiration or secret training exercises to improve my game. If I was an amateur, I wanted to be the best amateur among my peers. Fifteen years on, my motives to read Brilliant Orange has changed. I returned to the book to see how much the football world, in particular Dutch football, has changed. And in doing so, how much I have changed as well.

Kicked Off: A new Eredivisie season begins

In celebration of the Eredivisie kicking off, a few passages on Dutch football:

First, from Soccer in Sun and Shadow, Eduardo Galeano recounts Cryuff’s origins:

This scrawny livewire earned a spot on the Ajax roster when he was only a child: while his mother waited tables at the club bar, he collected balls that went off the field, shined the players’ shoes, and placed flags in the corners. He did everything they asked of him and nothing they ordered him to do. He wanted to play and they would not let him because his body was too weak and his will too strong. When they finally gave him a chance, he took it and never let it go. Still a boy, he made his debut, played stupendously, scored a goal, and knocked out the referee with one punch.

Galeano’s Gullit piece reads like it’s speaking to 2019, not 1993…

In 1993 a tide of racism was rising. Its stench, like a recurring nightmare, already hung over Europe; several crimes were committed and laws to keep out ex-colonial immigrants were passed. Many young whites, unable to find work, began to blame their plight on people with dark skin.

Ruud Gullit, known as “The Black Tulip,” had always been a full-throated opponent of racism. Guitar in hand, he sang at anti-apartheid concerts between matches, and in 1987, when he was chosen Europe’s most valuable player, he dedicated his Ballon d’Or to Nelson Mandela, who spent many years in jail for the crime of believing that blacks are human.

I googled The Black Tulip to see if Ruud Gullit would hit my screen first.

Nope.

Instead, the search engine delivered another historical rebel – Alexander Dumas, and his novel titled: The Black Tulip.

Now, from David Winner‘s Brilliant Orange:

A dedication worth reading:

For:

Dad, who taught me to love football,

Mum, who taught me to love art

and Hanny, who taught me to love Holland.

It’s clear to me now, but back in 2004, Winner’s book introduced me to the Dutch mentality of controlling the game. Also, Winner taught me there’s more to Dutch football than Johann Cryuff.

‘It’s a thinking game. It’s not running around everywhere and just working hard, though of course you have to work hard too. Every Dutch player wants to control the game. We play the ball from man to man; we wait for openings. That’s how to play football: with your brains, not with your feet. You don’t have to be a chess player, but you must think ahead. Before I had the ball I knew exactly what I would do with it. I always knew two or three moves ahead. Before I get the ball I can already see someone moving in front of me, so when the ball arrives I don’t have to think about it. And I don’t have to watch the ball because I have the right technique.’ If ball control comes naturally to a player, he needs only one touch to get it where it needs to be.

Arnold Muhren

Lastly, two transfers to watch out for:

Jordy Clasie returns to AZ on a permanent. Could a return to the Eredivisie see him mount a national team comeback?

Former Johan Cruyff Trophy winner and Pochettino outcast Vincent Janssen has landed in Monterrey. Could the ketchup finally flow?