England and Manchester United captain Wayne Rooney was in little doubt that Old Trafford colleague Michael Carrick had the Three Lions’ defining contribution against Italy.
“The best player on the pitch by a mile was Michael Carrick,” Rooney told reporters after the game.
“He came on and dictated the game for us, you saw how much control we had after that. I think he was the big difference between [the] two teams in [the]second half.”
The England skipper’s words highlight the importance of a deep-lying playmaker to the 4-1-2-1-2 or 4-2-3-1 formations the side operate in under Roy Hodgson.
Yet Carrick will be 34 years old by the time the European Championships roll around and the need for a long-term successor is as clear as the lack of tailor-made replacements currently in circulation.
The question is, who could step into the role?
Rooney acknowledged the injury-dogged Arsenal man’s place at the head of the queue to be England’s next Carrick in the same breath as praising the existing one’s contribution against the Azzurri:
“Michael did very well. We experimented in first half, Jones did well, but we missed players like Carrick and Wilshere.”
Wilshere has already proven his ability to fulfil the role with elan against opposition of Scotland’s ilk.
However, the suspicion remains that, as a naturally more attacking player, he could be found out defensively, a la Steven Gerrard, against better sides.
For three seasons the former Chelsea youth was a vastly underrated part of the continued of rise of Southampton, with his periods of absence coinciding with their reduced effectiveness.
That the Saints allowed Cork to move to renowned possession obsessives Swansea this January was far more bewildering than the fact that the Welsh side wanted him.
A neat, effective passer who quietly enhances the prospects of whoever he represents, the Swans star is more of a natural in the position than Wilshere and deserves a chance to prove his worth to Hodgson.
If Wilshere was the obvious choice and Cork the unheralded alternative, then Baines might just be the bolt from the blue (half of Merseyside).
A supreme creator, he is more defensively attuned than Wilshere and more incisive than Cork.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez first began suggesting his left-back could pull of a midfield conversion in the style of Philipp Lahm last season when he was quoted in the Guardian as saying:
“Like Lahm, Leighton doesn’t give the ball away, he’s got a very low centre of gravity and technically he is as good as it gets.
“When you have that control of the ball and have been such a good defender, and as a left-back you have to be very good on one-v-one situations, it is very important to have that defensive mindset in those midfield areas.
“That is important for defensive balance…He can be more expansive in central midfield than in his left back role.”