Brilliant Orange, Magnificent Yellow

By | March 12, 2019

Football is creative and expressive, however, more often than not, the creativity on the field is an expression of the society off the field. In David Winner’s “Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer” he analyzes how the rise of TotalFootball in Holland during the 1960s reflected a theme of “totality” that was evident in Dutch art, architecture, and city design. This totality was defined as a complex organization and structure that creatively utilized space while also encouraging small amounts of individual flair…but not too much. On the football field, this totality manifested itself in how the team was an interchangeable and morphable unit that functioned as a well oiled machine to smoothly and quickly possess the ball into the attack and maintain a high position for the purpose of quick transition to defending in the case of a turn over. The Dutch team was not a group of super stars and big name players, and although their structure was fixed, each individuals position was interchangeable. This ease with which the Dutch team maneuvered themselves on the crowded field harkened back to how the designers of their cities had to creatively utilize small amounts of space for their projects. TotalFootball only becomes possible with a deep and relational understanding of how the other individuals on the field think and function as well as a complete grasp of the tactical mission of the team as a whole. In Dutch football, no one player or position was seen as more important than the others and the interchange of players and position gave defensive players the opportunity to go into the attack and the attacking players to work back in defense. This unique style of play and fluidity of team possession and attack was valued at the same level, if not even higher than the large number of goals that came from it. Similarly to the Brazilian mentality of jogo bonito, simply winning the game wasn’t enough; it had to look beautiful in the process. And both games, the Brazilian game and the Dutch game were beautiful.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that phrase rings true in the world of football as well. The beauty of the skillfully creative, super-star style of Brazilian football at that time could not be compared to the beauty of the organization, interchangeability, and efficiency of the Dutch. However, both are beautiful in their own ways. Brazilian football is improvisational and dance-like. Dutch football is based on pattern and structure. Brazilian football is flashy and exciting while Dutch football is simple and modest. Brazilian football is flourishes and weaves, while Dutch football is lines and shapes. Brazilian football is based on individuality while Dutch football places its focus on the team. Both styles of play are artistic and beautiful in their own right. Both styles take skill and expertise. However, the Brazilians and the Dutch function very differently at the cultural level off the field, and resultantly, both societies have very different concepts of how the beautiful game should look.

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