From Eduardo Galeano's classic, now available as an ebook. We'll have excerpts throughout the week.
They called the Dutch team the "Clockwork Orange," but there was nothing mechanical about this work of the imagination that had everyone befuddled with its incessant changes. Like River's "Machine," another team libeled by its nickname, this orange fire flitted back and forth, fanned by an all-knowing breeze that sped it forward and pulled it back. Everyone attacked and everyone defended, deploying and retreating in a vertiginous fan. Faced with a team in which each one was all eleven, the opposing players lost their step.
A Brazilian reporter called it "organized disorganization." The Netherlands had music, and the one who carried the melody, keeping so many simultaneous notes on pitch and in tune, was Johan Cruyff. Conducting the orchestra and playing his own instrument at the same time, Cruyff worked harder than anyone.
This scrawny live wire 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 the 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.
From that night on he kept up his reputation for being tempestuous, hardworking, and talented. Over two decades he won twenty-two championships in the Netherlands and Spain. He retired when he was thirty-seven; after scoring his final goal, the crowd carried him on its shoulders from the stadium to his house.
Excerpted from Soccer in Sun and Shadow. Copyright © 1997 by Eduardo Galeano and Mark Fried, translation. Published in paperback by Nation Books, 2013. Published in ebook by Open Road Media, 2014; available wherever ebooks are sold. By permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services, New York City and Lamy, NM. All rights reserved.