Pearce's England captaincy dilemma
Stuart Pearce listed the qualities required and knows the man with all the credentials - but the identity of England's new captain remained shrouded in mystery at Wembley on Monday.
Former coach Fabio Capello, who sent his former assistant a "good luck" text ahead of Wednesday's meeting with the Netherlands, never fully grasped the honour the English attach to the captain's armband.
And those who shared the Italian's refusal to buy into the cult of captaincy would have had a harrowing couple of hours as the subject of John Terry's replacement topped the agenda at caretaker manager Pearce's pre-match media briefing.
Pearce makes no attempt to disguise his emotions about leading his country out as captain - "the greatest honour of my career" - so he was well prepared for the fuss that greeted his decision to delay the coronation until the day of the game.
He denied it had been a political decision, insisting this has always been his policy since his days as Manchester City manager and also as England Under-21s coach.
It may have added to the sense that England are in some sort of holding pattern for this friendly with no permanent manager, a captain whose identity is currently a secret and a squad weakened by the absence of injured and ill, including Manchester United's Wayne Rooney.
And yet this was Pearce showing he was being his own man, even if it is for only one game, as he has been by bringing back Manchester City's Micah Richards after he had been given the widest of berths by Capello, who left his post still unconvinced by his defensive capabilities.
It will be England's first itnernational match since the departure of Fabio Capello. Photo: Getty
Pearce knew who his captain would be almost from the moment he was handed control after Capello's split with the Football Association, and he revealed events behind closed doors at England's Hertfordshire base since the squad gathered on Sunday had only confirmed his view.
He said: "You have to bear in mind this might be a one-off scenario. When I pick the captain he has got to be somebody in the starting eleven, somebody who has got the respect of the other players, somebody who is unselfish, leads by example and puts the group before himself, which is a vital commodity.
"There is no doubt there are several candidates. It has to be someone I am comfortable working with but the most important thing is how the team plays."
So the field looks to have been narrowed to four - Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Tottenham's Scott Parker, Manchester City keeper Joe Hart and his team-mate James Milner.
Pearce has already name-checked Milner, was glowing about the development and influence of Hart, sang Parker's praises after he was named England's player of the year - and is an avid admirer of Gerrard, who remains favourite to take the armband.
Hart, who is in the process of developing into one of the finest goalkeepers in the world, would be a major surprise at the age of 24.
In the absence of a captain he faced the media this week and played with the sort of straight bat that earned him accolades as a promising cricketer with Worcestershire's academy.
Such has been the impressive nature of Hart's progression, Pearce may feel the goalkeeper he signed for City as a teenager in a £600,000 deal from Shrewsbury Town should simply concentrate on his own game rather than receive wider responsibility.
He is unlikely to feel any pain at not being being given the captaincy - and the same may well apply to Milner, a respected figure within England's squad and someone who has already stated he would be unfazed by the cares of the armband.
Parker has a growing lobby backing his chances, but he is not captain of his club and again is unlikely to feel he has been snubbed should he be overlooked when Pearce gathers his squad at the team hotel at 10am on Wednesday to name Terry's successor.
This leaves Gerrard, who appears to be the identikit of the character sketched out by Pearce at Wembley. He has become the ultimate lead-by-example inspiration at Liverpool, a quiet but focused character who has the complete respect of England's players and someone who will play at Wembley.
Suggestions that Gerrard, 32 in May, could quit international football after the Euros to prolong his Liverpool career should be rendered irrelevant in this debate as the major object of England's attention must be Poland and Ukraine, not the imponderables that may or may not happen after the tournament.
So, as the pieces of Pearce's words and the messages around the camp were linked together, Gerrard still emerged as the main contender to lead England out in his first international since the defeat against France in November 2010.
Gerrard's involvement in Liverpool's Carling Cup final win after extra-time and penalties against Cardiff City at Wembley on Sunday means his appearance could be restricted against the Dutch, raising the prospect of the armband having a couple of owners on Wednesday.
And while his England captaincy may still bear the scars of the flawed World Cup campaign in South Africa in 2010, it would be harsh to blame Gerrard for the manner in which that summer descended into heavy defeat against Germany in the last 16.
Having led his country before, and with such honours behind him in his club career, Gerrard is the only one of the quartet, with 89 caps and 19 goals to his name, who may have cause to feel slighted should he not be handed the captaincy.
Pearce knows who he wants and will end the debate on Wednesday - and whether the armband is regarded by some as cosmetic rather than crucial, it will still be a cause for debate.