Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The Ipcress File

Having recently developed a penchant for espionage-related movies, I thought that I would check out The Ipcress File, the 1965 film based on the novel by Len Deighton, and starring Michael Caine as Harry Palmer.

The first thing which I noticed about this movie was its aesthetic, which combined elements of Swinging London with the the dark and brooding world of espionage.  The latter is portrayed as clinical, austere and occasionally brutal.

Michael Caine can often come across as somewhat anodyne in his performances, but here he does manage to bring out some of the insolence and cynicism of the character.  Palmer was perhaps the quintessential man of his time (the 60s); rebellious, vaguely anti-establishment, self-confidence bordering on arrogance.

The plot does take a little while to "happen", with comparatively little in the way of exposition, but I was carried along by the tension, until things became clearer later in the film.  The gravity of the dialogue and the subject matter leads us to believe that something of great import is happening, but precisely what is not immediately apparent, or at least it wasn't to this viewer!  Much is left untold, leaving us the viewers to try to join the dots.  Repeated watching may shed further light on some of the intricacies.

It can be argued I think that this is not your straightforward, Cold War-orientated spy thriller, of which there was a surfeit around the time that The Ipcress File was released.  Although we eventually discover that the "double agent" phenomenon is at play here, this is something different again, more obscure perhaps.

The elements of mind-control, brainwashing and psychological experimentation which are detailed here are perhaps not as far-fetched or implausible as some might imagine, although towards the end there was almost a sense that espionage and science-fiction were overlapping.

Not until the final scene do many of the strands finally come together, and the supposed duplicity of the Dalby character is determined.  This closing scene is very gripping.

Not having read the novel myself, I am unable to comment on whether the film is faithful to the original story, but whatever the case, this is a very clever and mind-engaging piece of work, even if it is even harder work mentally than other movies of the genre.  The nature of the plot certainly punctured and defied some of my own pre-conceptions. A word also for John Barry's atmospheric music.

Well worth watching, and I am very tempted to seek out Len Deighton's novel.

Monday, 28 May 2012

2012 Monaco Grand Prix Reflections

Despite what some media outlets have been saying, not a thrilling Monaco Grand Prix, but certainly an interesting and intriguing one.  The closeness of the competition, and the vagaries of tyre management and the Monaco weather, tended to obscure the fact that there was little passing, or even attempted passing, in the top echelons of the field, even by the standards of the street circuit.  Because of the trends established thus far in 2012, there must be a temptation to pass even the quite mundane off as pulsatingly exciting.

Mark Webber's performance was composed and error-free, and will be a major filip for the Australian, after some ill-fortune and disappointments earlier in the season.  After the pit-stops and tyre strategies unravelled, he looked reasonably comfortable, and none of his pursuers looked realistically capable of getting by, despite the presence of the tightly-packed bunch, exacerbated by the rain in the closing laps.

One of the most noteworthy aspects of Sunday's race was the performance of Ferrari. Did the nature of the circuit mask some of the car's deficiencies, or has there been genuine progress?  There is probably foundation in both of these theories, and Alonso's comments post-race sounded cautiously upbeat.  The race showing of Felipe Massa will have dampened speculation concerning his future, until Montreal at least...

Perhaps the disappointment of the weekend was the failure of Lotus to fully realise the great hopes which had been invested in them beforehand.  Although they did emerge from the weekend with little tangible to show for their efforts, no major concern or disquiet is evident.  Everyone is fully conscious of the margins under which people are operating this year.  Sauber, another team constantly knocking at the door of a real breakthrough, might have expressed similar sentiments after the race...

Events at McLaren continue to fascinate, as they are further subsumed into the main pack, following their perceived "advantage" at the outset of the season.  Lewis Hamilton appears to be coping better than his team-mate. Button endured another torrid race, caught in traffic, and then spinning out.  Frustration?

Michael Schumacher was ultimately out of luck in Monaco, but the weekend did contain some things which should give him heart.  A fast time in qualifying, and a feisty start in the race, which was curtailed by his contretemps with Romain Grosjean.

A quick word of praise to both Jean-Eric Vergne and Heikki Kovalainen, whose creditable displays have gone relatively unheralded.

All in all, Monaco seemed to offer little in the way of solid pointers for the rest of the season, and anyway any bold predictions are proving futile this year! 

Monday, 21 May 2012

Demian - Hermann Hesse

I have just finished reading this, another of Hermann Hesse's most notable novels, and thought that I would share a few of my thoughts and observations.

The first few chapters of the book indicated to me that this was going to be different in themes and feel to the other Hesse works which I had previously enjoyed.  However, it turns out that many familiar Hesse themes formed the central thrust of it, albeit in different settings and with an intriguingly vibrant new take.

Duality, self-discovery and matters of consciousness all loom large here, seen through the prism of the central character, Emil Sinclair, and his encounters with various "mentors", including Max Demian.

One of the primary messages of the book seems to be that in order to achieve a realization of "self", one must sample and inhabit both the world of bourgeois order and that of "darker forces".  Hesse appears to contend that traditional religious instruction does not incorporate the "other" world, and to argue the point he invokes the figure of Abraxas, who harmonizes good and evil, and symbolizes the concept of "one-ness".

The Cain and Abel metaphor is used to good effect early in the story, and later Demian's mother Eva becomes an important symbol of the ideal for Sinclair.  The "sparrowhawk" and egg symbols are also clever and powerful.

The later chapters also contain some observations about modern-day life, and its corrosive effect on thinking, spirituality and individuality, leading to staleness, complacency and indolence. Hopes are expressed that the status quo will be changed by those embarked on the journeys of discovery identified here.

For me, the threads of Demian are less clearly defined and seamless than some of Hesse's other novels, and less immediately comforting and inspiring.  However, those readers who persevere with it will not only be challenged, but also rewarded.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

2012 Champions League Final

Well, the Champions League Final may not have been a masterclass of artistic football, but for sheer drama and suspense, it will take some topping!  The longer the match progressed, and as each new twist was unfurled, I kept thinking to myself that their "name was on the trophy".

This is not to decry Chelsea's efforts.  Petr Cech and Didier Drogba may grab the headlines, but the entire team, and the back-line in particular, displayed great resilience and determination in keeping the team afloat under severe pressure.  From what I could see, the team rarely lost its shape completely, and also managed to maintain some discipline and morale, although they did ride their luck in the penalty area on occasion.

People have opined that Bayern were unlucky, and it is true that they dominated possession for much of the game, and played most of the constructive and composed football.  Their midfield in particular had much more creativity and versatility about it than that of Chelsea, and as anticipated Robben, Ribery and Thomas Mueller posed a constant threat.  Having said all this, however, Bayern were profligate in their finishing, and ultimately paid the price for not putting the match to bed earlier.

Chelsea, when they did get the ball, tended not to keep it for long enough, particularly in forward positions, with Drogba isolated at times.   They did generate a touch more fluency in their play towards half-time, and Kalou forced a save from Neuer on 37 minutes.

Although the Londoners would have felt relieved that it was still scoreless at half-time, Bayern Munich continued their relentless pressing after the break.  Despite this, the longer it remained at 0-0 the more heartened Chelsea would have felt, to employ a well-worn cliche.  They were creating few chances, but the defence, and Ashley Cole and Gary Cahill deserve special credit, were still defiant, Cole rising to the occasion and taking on responsibility.

There was a danger for Bayern that they might run out of ideas as the second half progressed, and even if their passing and approach play became slightly less crisp and incisive, they still dictated proceedings. The Thomas Mueller goal, late though it was, had a certain inevitability about it.

Then came Drogba's dramatic equaliser, and personally I thought at that time that the pendulum was swinging Chelsea's way.  The psychological impact of the levelling goal, the introduction of Fernando Torres, and Bayern's removal of Muller from the fray.  However, as we went into extra-time there were yet more twists....

Chelsea might have felt emboldened at the outset of extra-time, but the decision to award Bayern Munich a penalty in that first additional period was undoubtedly correct, Drogba clearly clipping Ribery, and not making contact with the ball. 

Not only did Petr Cech's penalty save further bolster galvanise Chelsea, but Ribery was forced off with an injury, presumably stemming from the Drogba foul.

Then, of course, came the penalty shoot-out....

Much attention will now focus on the future of Roberto Di Matteo.  After reaching the summit, will the Chelsea owner feel able to appoint the Italian to oversee some team rebuilding, or will that role be entrusted to a more experienced coach?  We shall see...

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

England Euro 2012 squad

Just a few days after being appointed England manager, Roy Hodgson has unveiled his 23-man squad for the forthcoming European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

As has become customary, there has been much comment on the dwindling pool of top-quality players which England have at their disposal, because of the prevalence of overseas players in the Premier League. For me, this time around it does not feel like the numbers were lower, but the average quality is not what it was, even in the recent past.  Too many of the players are either past their prime, or else have major question marks hanging over them.

The headlines will doubtless concentrate mainly on the selections in attacking positions, but one thing which perturbs me is the flimsiness of the defensive resources which Hodgson will possess. A lack of genuine and proven international quality in this area, with one or two exceptions, and it could cost England dear.  One thing which the side has generally been able to count on over the years is a solid foundation at the back.

There would appear to be more bounteous options in midfield and attack, and the likes of  Ashley Young and Theo Walcott could provide the team with some proper cutting edge.  Although the selection in midfield looks good on paper the secret, as ever with England in this area of the team, will be arriving at a suitable balance.

Personally, I would have preferred to see Peter Crouch selected, with his experience and good international goalscoring record.  His inclusion might have negated some of the imponderables and variables.

Unlike many other people, I am not yet writing England and Roy Hodgson off.  Many of the other competing nations are probably having the same debates and doubts.  Much will depend on how the squad gels in the short time available with their new supremo before the beginning of the tournament.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Top Gear

In recent days, I have been viewing lots of episodes and features from the UK version of Top Gear.

For me this TV programme is one of the few redeeming pop-cultural features of modern Britain, especially its latter-day incarnation starring the triumvirate of Clarkson, Hammond and May.  Not only is it great, high-quality entertainment, but it also annoys, irritates and infuriates all the right people.

The way in which the show was allowed to evolve was masterly, even though some of the banter and scenarios were clearly contrived.  My view is that the show peaked about three or four years ago, in terms of the spontaneity of the dialogue, and overall inventiveness.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, it runs the risk nowadays of appearing a little stale and repetitive.

One thing which does surprise me somewhat is that the current format, and its agenda, have been allowed to survive and flourish amidst the world-view of those who run and/or control the BBC.  If the revenue generated was not so lucrative, it would likely have been jettisoned on the grounds that it does not conform to the Glorious Five Year Plan.

My theory as to the appeal of Top Gear in recent years is that, in addition to its sense of fun and technical gloss, it represents an oasis of non-conformism and extravagance, in an ever more controlled and legislated world.  It is perhaps no coincidence that much of the humour in the show pokes fun at the Nanny State and officialdom generally. For a libertarian-minded person like myself, the show ticks many of the right boxes....

Sunday, 13 May 2012

2012 Spanish Grand Prix Review

First of all, best wishes for a speedy recovery to to all those affected by the fire which broke out in the pit garages after today's race. 

Before this season, the prospect of a Pastor Maldonado victory in Barcelona would have seemed fanciful at best.  Before this weekend, it would have appeared vaguely possible but also improbable. However, as the Spanish Grand Prix meeting progressed, the realisation dawned that the Venezuelan and the Williams were becoming genuine contenders to ascend to the top step of the podium here.  Even allowing for this, the concept of Maldonado as a Grand Prix winner is taking some getting used to!  This detracts not at all from his performance and achievement;it is wonderful to see another new winner, and many will be delighted in particular for the Williams team and Sir Frank.

Alonso lost out in the second round of pit-stops, but thereafter Maldonado displayed commendable composure and maturity, not being fazed by a less than perfect third pit visit.  He managed to keep Alonso at arm's length.  If anything, it was the Ferrari which was looking ragged in the final laps.

Afterwards, Alonso seemed phlegmatic, and after all he is very handily placed in the standings, and may be seeing recent F1 developments in a different light to certain of his rivals.  His priority has been improving the Ferrari's competitiveness, whilst some others are tying themselves in knots psychologically over tyre difficulties.  That said, Alonso is keen to reserve judgement on any improvements to the car.

Some of the post-race interviews I found quite revealing.  Messrs Vettel, Button and Webber all evinced varying degrees of bemusement with the outcome of the race, and the precise reasons or explanations for the failings of their cars. This seemed most pronounced in the McLaren driver, who now looks pessimistic and baffled by events.

By contrast, one driver whose weekend suffered a major setback on Saturday emerged from proceedings with his pride intact, and with some credit.  Lewis Hamilton limited the damage from his misfortune in qualifying as capably as could have been expected, racing aggressively but sensibly.  His post-race interview was one of some defiance.

Another strong showing from Lotus, although there may be substance to suggestions that they are not currently maximising their potential, seemingly having some performance "in hand", but not fully exploitable, towards the end of races. It surely will not take much of a realignment for them to be challenging for victories.  On paper, Monaco should suit both the car and the drivers.

One other driver worthy of praise today was Sauber's Kamui Kobayashi, who drove a race combining slick pace with the odd audacious passing manoeuvre.  His team-mate Perez might have featured more prominently but for that first-corner altercation.

A frustrating day for Mercedes, with Schumacher colliding with Bruno Senna (and picking up a grid penalty for the next race), and Nico Rosberg being another one of those bemoaning "tyre management" difficulties.

Often in the past, the commencement of the European phase of the season has seen a restoration of normality, and the natural order of things. This has emphatically not been the case this season, and I can envisage more of the same in Monaco.....

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying - Part 2

Well, since I blogged earlier today about the outcome and ramifications of the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying, Lewis Hamilton has been relegated to the back of the grid for a rules infringement.

I'm not going to go into the whys and wherefores of the stewards' decision itself, but this affair clearly has implications far beyond Lewis Hamilton's prospects in tomorrow's race at the Circuit de Catalunya. Some aspects of the McLaren team's performance cannot have inspired much confidence in its drivers, and the optimism instilled by an initially competitive car has been dissipated.

How the cumulative effect of all of these episodes will influence any decisions over Hamilton's future in particular is open to question.  Needless to day, the McLaren team will feel the pressure in the short term, to deliver an error-free race tomorrow, and more long-term to properly address these failings.

The ruling means that Pastor Maldonado starts from pole position in the Williams, and home favourite Fernando Alonso will be alongside him in the Ferrari.

We hear that wet weather has affected the circuit, not that any additional variables will really be required to make this race interesting and stimulating!

Spanish Grand Prix Qualifying

Another topsy-turvy and slightly bewildering qualifying session, with Lews Hamilton claiming pole position for tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix, in the end by a relatively emphatic margin, even if the margin of his achieving it did not appear that tranquil as it unfolded.  As I write it this, however, Hamilton may yet face a penalty for an alleged technical infringement.

Although the composition of much of the top ten was not greatly surprising, eyebrows will have been raised by the presence of Pastor Maldonado and Fernando Alonso in second and third positions.  The Venezuelan has looked very confident and focused in Barcelona, and looked a genuine threat to secure pole, the Williams chassis working very efficiently.

Alonso managed to extract every ounce of performance from the Ferrari, his own efforts combining with upgrades to the car instituted at this event.  By contrast, Felipe Massa struggled, the onboard television pictures vividly illustrating the awkward and troublesome handling of his machine.  He languishes in seventeenth place, and has a hard task in front of him.

While Hamilton looked firmly "in the zone" today, Jenson Button was ill-at-ease, missing out on Q3, and seemingly unhappy with the handling of his car.  As we have seen before,  a lowly grid position need not necessarily be an impediment to the Englishman, but this time around the issues with his McLaren will need to be remedied to enable him to race aggressively and confidently. Some of his comments indicate that he is a little bit lost this weekend.

Of the Red Bulls, Sebastian Vettel has looked strong, but appeared to subordinate grid position to the imperatives of race tyre strategy.  He looks in good shape for Sunday.  His team-mate was afflicted by a mix-up with the pits. Unlike Button, Mark Webber seems quite content with the behaviour of the car underneath him.

As has become the norm, Lotus, Sauber and Mercedes are well placed, and Lotus at least can be expected to figure prominently in the race itself, both cars looking stable and their drivers Grosjean and Raikkonen comfortable.

One driver who will be disappointed is Bruno Senna, who suffered a spin in Q1, and starts eighteenth. Whether this mishap was a case of trying too hard in an attempt to match the pace of his team-mate Maldonado, we can only speculate.  He will require a solid race performance in order to make amends, and redeem himself in the eyes of the Williams team. With an effective chassis at his disposal, this is not beyond his capabilities.

Predicting the results of this season's races has been a thankless task, to say the least.  One thing is easy to predict though, and that is that much of the talk both before and during the race will surround those things manufactured by Pirelli which are situated on each corner of the car.

Whatever transpires, it seems that tomorrows contest may well belie Barcelona's reputation for producing sterile, forgettable encounters.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Spanish Grand Prix Preview

After a most stimulating and entertaining beginning to the 2012 season, Formula 1's pivotal European season commences in Barcelona this weekend.  The opening batch of "fly-away" races have undoubtedly whetted the appetite for the competition to come.

The Red Bull team will approach the race in Spain in good heart after their upturn in fortunes in Bahrain. Despite Vettel's victory there, there was little suggestion of the old invincibility or any permanence to this state of affairs. Some might argue that the results in Bahrain owed at least something to the shortcomings and errors of others.

McLaren's display in the last race was shambolic, and quite out of character.  Some of the wounds were self-inflicted, and unforced errors are likely to be costly in this ultra-competitive season. They seem to have taken some steps to address the failings shown last time out, and have some upgrades coming on stream in Spain. The track in Barcelona has a reputation for favouring good, all-round cars, and this should stand McLaren in good stead this weekend.  The MP4-27 has not become a bad car overnight. 

The Mugello test, not surprisingly, was largely inconclusive.  The form of Ferrari is still uncertain and hard to predict, with some modifications not emerging until the team arrives in Barcelona. Fernando Alonso will be hoping for some improvement for his home Grand Prix.  There is a danger that the competition could disappear over the horizon.

All things being equal, we should expect Lotus, Sauber and Mercedes to continue their role as realistic challengers for victory.  Of these, Lotus in particular seem to be doing all the right things, with a positive approach, and a pair of drivers who are feeding off and motivating each other.  They now need to demonstrate that they are capable of crossing that invisible barrier which separates them from becoming winners in 2012....

Mercedes have still yet to be totally convincing in race trim, but appear to be vaguely moving in the right direction.  Sauber will also be hoping to notch up more consistent race results.

The subject of tyres was very much a hot topic of conversation after Bahrain, prompted largely by Michael Schumacher's post-race remarks.   The debate on tyres has not quite escalated in the way that Schumacher may have hoped, with some F1 figures appearing to offer qualified support for Pirelli, but it provides an interesting sub-plot, and the controversy may well re-ignite in Spain, if tyre wear continues to play a central role in the performance of teams and the outcome of the race.

Occasionally in the past, what appeared to be a wide-open season has been transformed by a sudden technical breakthrough or sweet-spot being discovered by a competing team, but 2012 does not seem to conform to that description.  All the available evidence points to more of what we have been treated to in the first four races. 

Five different winners in the first five Grands Prix?  Don't rule it out.....

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Racing In The Rain - John Horsman

I have resolved to spend more time reading, and in some cases re-reading, lots of books on motorsport history.  One which I never tire of is the wonderful Racing In The Rain, by John Horsman.

The book colourfully but informatively chronicles Horsman's involvement with the motorsport projects of Aston Martin, Ford and Porsche, mainly through his role with John Wyer's organisation.

The early stages of the book evoke a real sense of post-war and 1950s Britain, its optimism and its relative simplicity.  It moves up a gear when we move into the Aston Martin years, and there are some great anecdotes from this era.  It is safe to say that technology had a way to go, and improvisation was often the order of the day!

Horsman's enthusiasm for his work and his subject comes through in every word.  One thing which gives the book some bite is the author's willingness to be frank in his appraisal of mistakes made, and particularly in apportioning responsibility.  There is some exasperation with the politics of the GT40 project, and also with the vagaries of the subsequent relationship with Porsche.  Although the descriptions of these things are candid, they never detract from the book's overall charm.

The early stages of the book in particular are greatly enhanced by the author's own wonderfully evocative and atmospheric photographs.

John Horsman's own detailed technical recollections and data mean that this book should appeal both on a human level, and also for those whose interest is more of a mechanical nature. Some of the descriptions of frantic pre-race preparations and test sessions induce a real sense of "being there".

I would recommend this book to any motorsport enthusiast.  A real gem.

Friday, 4 May 2012

Senna versus Prost - Malcolm Folley

I recently purchased the Kindle version of Malcolm Folley's book Senna versus Prost.
My appreciation of this book blossomed as my reading of it progressed. Following the first few chapters, I found myself lamenting that it offered little in the way of new information, and the format itself seemed clumsy and confusing. However, as I worked my way through it, it began to make a lot more sense.

The stated remit of this publication, to chronicle the legendary rivalry between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, is not always adhered to slavishly, and it often feels more like a re-telling of Formula 1 history in the approximate period 1980-1994.  The text sometimes dwells on issues with only a tenuous or indirect link to the Senna versus Prost dynamic.  To be fair, these tangents often make for enlightening and entertaining reading!

The problem faced by any author seeking to tell the tale of "Senna versus Prost" is that there is very little genuinely new to say, the story having been analysed and committed to paper ad nauseam. However, Folley does a creditable job, taking the trouble to undertake new interviews with many of the key figures, including Prost himself, and also drivers and team personnel who were closely connected to the two men. The input of these individuals, particularly their colourful and amusing "behind the scenes" anecdotes, forms the backbone of the book for me.

Whether or not this book merely retraces old ground will depend to some extent on the vintage of the reader, and also which books and articles they have accessed over the years.  The genuinely new information can be extracted with care.

To his credit, I thought that Folley did a fine job of conveying a sense of how the atmosphere between the two drivers, within the McLaren team, and in the sport generally, gradually became more poisonous, particularly in the period 1989-1993.  It also brought back to me vividly the bitter taste which I felt in my mouth around the time of Suzuka '89.  The egos and back-biting are certainly laid bare here., and some of the memories are unedifying, but compelling nonetheless.  It all makes some of the controversies of more recent times seem tame by comparison.

Surprises?  Well, I thought that the 1990 season overall was given scant coverage, and the actual race in Japan in 1989 was not described as intensively as I expected, though in fairness the off-track aftermath is done justice.

So how do the two drivers emerge from it all?   Prost appeared principled but perhaps naive,  realising too late that in the shape of Senna he was dealing with somebody on a different plane, talent and personality wise, to what he had previously been confronted with.  One could also argue that he was embroiled in just as many, if not more, intrigues as Senna, and with more different team-mates....

The genius and prodigious talent and intensity of Senna are amply outlined, but his flaws are not overlooked, the author largely leaving the words of the Brazilian's contemporaries and rivals to tell the tale.

To hardcore enthusiasts and historians, the treatement of some aspects of this tale might seem overly simplistic and "populist", but for the uninitiated or the casual reader, it will be be different.  This is arguably a cut above your average, run-of-the-mill, Formula 1 pot-boiler.  The book benefits from the passage of time, as this allows a more detached and nuanced assessment, and some key protagonists are willing and able to be more forthcoming, candid and frank with their opinions.  Jo Ramirez, Damon Hill, Martin Brundle and Derek Warwick and others offer cutting opinions and verdicts.

All in all, a good read, but it may well be that the definitive book on the Senna/Prost era has yet to be written....

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Roy Hodgson

So, Roy Hodgson has been announced as the new England football manager.

After the feverish speculation concerning Harry Redknapp's potential candidature, many observers may view this news as underwhelming, but it is difficult to fault the choice from several perspectives. Hodgson may appear to lack the dynamism and media-savvy of some of the other people mentioned in connection with the job, but he does possess some admirable qualities.

Hodgson has a long and varied coaching career behind him, in many countries and many environments, building up a massive bank of technical knowledge and expertise.  He is respected by those within the game, and from the Football Association's point of view, represents a safe pair of hands. Crucially perhaps, he has extensive experience of the international game itself, in addition to his endeavours in club football.

Some will no doubt point to his relative lack of major success in the absolute top echelons of club football, but are those credentials necessarily what is required for an international manager these days?  Rather, tactical and technical nous and diplomatic acumen are seen as pre-requisites.  In any event, Hodgson has done a solid job during his tenure with West Bromwich Albion, and elsewhere....

Of course, Euro 2012 is very much looming, but the lack of preparation time could actually work to England's advantage, engendering a greater team spirit and togetherness, as well as a determination to prove the doubters wrong.  There are historical precedents for teams thrown together in less than ideal circumstances summoning up the resolve and cohesion necessary to prevail.

It is also gratifying that the position of England boss is to be occupied by somebody who desired the job for the right reasons, and sees it as the culmination of what he has been working towards throughout his career.  This came through in this afternoon's press conference, as did the genuine affection and respect in which he his held.

I, and I expect many others, wish Roy Hodgson every success in his new role.