Monday, April 18, 2016

Book Review: Danish Dynamite

I just read the book "Danish Dynamite", by Rob Smyth, Lars Eriksen and Mike Gibbons.
This book is for the football romantics, and specifically for the football romantics who adore the Danish national team of the mid-80s.
I am myself one of the fans with fond memories of that side: notably the 1986 World Cup, which was the best World Cup of legendary sides, where the Danish team was one among many. In that sense I do not see this book as totally objective. It is a declaration of love to this team, and as many declarations of love, it overplays the superlatives and fails to mention some of the darker sides: surely the 1980s were other times, but they were not always good. The game was harsher, and some of the Danish players did not hesitate to play as harsh as anyone, with tasteless tackles and acting. This is only mentioned superficially (specifically on Klaus Bergreen's excessive attack on Charlie Nichols in 1986), and only excused. The same can be said for the Danish Roligans; indeed, great fans that became very popular at a time when Hooligans were overshadowing fan culture. But that is also why they became so popular, and one cannot ignore some of the more tasteless aspects of Roligans such as rowdy drunken behaviour (without getting violent admittedly) and a general disrespect for opposition, mostly seen in the tradition of whistling during other team's national anthems.
The most interesting parts of the book are about the role of Sepp Piontek as a coach who inculcated discipline and a new offensive strategy based on a very talented generation of Danish footballers. There is nevertheless little about the football tactics behind this, where Piontek indeed used a strong midfield that both looked back to Total Football, but also looked ahead at more modern use of holding midfielders and a hanging striker.
The last chapters of the book were the most interesting in terms of the legacy of the team: when the 1980s team ended, Denmark went on to win the Euro 1992 under coach Richard Moller Nielsen, playing a style of football that in many ways seemed the antithesis of the 1980s team. In my view Danish football has suffered from this, as Denmark now seems light years away from producing players of the technical level of the 1980s side, but seems intent on producing technically mediocre work-men, like some of the players that won the 1992 Euro. It is mentioned shortly in the last chapter, but it seems that Denmark is stuck between what in Argentina is the Menotti-Bilardo schizophrenia. This was perhaps illustrated by the role Morten Olsen played as national team coach: I am certain that Mr. Olsen would have wanted to play a similar style to that practiced by the 1980s side he captained, but he never had the players for it, and also, an also, he was pushed for a focus on results, rather than “glory”... In that sense, the heritage of the legendary 1980s Danish side appears as little more than fond memories, and that is truly a pity for Danish football.
But if you are a romantic about the 1980s side, this is your book.

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