It’s just a matter of time before someone is vaulted into one of football’s most scrutinised roles, as Wayne Rooney’s days as England’s captain edge closer to being a thing of the past.
Although Rooney has no plans to step away from the position, it almost seems inevitable that a new leader will be chosen in the wake of the Manchester United captain losing his spot in the first team.
Pride and joy are normally a trait of the new captain before the reality of being used as a lightning rod for criticism kicks in. It comes part and parcel with the job, but is there a member in the current collection of English players capable of stepping into the role?
Here’s a handful of candidates who could potentially lead England in the post-Rooney era as captain:
Jordan Henderson continues to follow in Steven Gerrard’s footsteps.
After replacing the Liverpool legend as captain of the Merseyside outfit, Henderson leads his national side into Slovenia as England’s leader for the first time after replacing Rooney as the team’s skipper for the World Cup qualifier.
It’s a role Gerrard reluctantly gave up when he retired from the national team in 2014 after captaining England 38 times – fourth all-time behind Bobby Moore’s record 90 appearances as captain.
For Henderson, Tuesday’s match is a perfect time for the 26-year-old to showcase his leadership qualities during his brief audition as captain.
Woes at the club level haven’t impacted Joe Hart’s place on the national team, yet.
However, his domestic play will be crucial in the future if he wants to retain his role as England’s No. 1, and possibly ascend into the captain’s chair.
Hart, who currently plies his trade in Italy with Torino after being shipped out on loan, has proven his qualities as a skipper before when he led England during a friendly against Spain in 2015.
It was a chance for Hart to prove that he’s worthy of the job as he attempts to join the ranks of goalkeeping greats such as Iker Casillas (Spain), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), and Manuel Neuer (Germany), and lead his own national team.
John Stones could be the young mind England needs to provide a fresh perspective moving forward.
He obviously doesn’t possess the impressive resume that others on this list have accumulated over their respective careers, but appointing the 22-year-old defender as captain could set the country up for a prolonged period of sustained leadership.
The only question lingering is if the country, and media for that matter, will allow such a young player to blossom into a leader before impatience with the team’s performances on the pitch trigger calls for his premature removal.
He’s filled in for Rooney before, so perhaps it’s time to give Chris Smalling a shot when his Manchester United teammate either relinquishes or loses the captain’s armband.
A staple in England’s squad over the past two years, Smalling, despite only being 26, is one of the senior figures on an English team packed with exciting, young talent.
He may not be first choice at the moment, but Gary Cahill isn’t going to be around forever, and Smalling is in line to replace him at the heart of the Three Lions’ defence.
His leadership at the back, however, has been criticised in the past for the lack of vocal support he provides. Communication will undoubtedly be a major factor when it comes to choosing a new captain, which could leave Smalling short if he fails to prove he can tow the line with both his play and ability to speak up and organise the defence.
Despite failing to live up to lofty expectations during Euro 2016, another hot streak could vault Harry Kane into the captaincy debate.
Still just 23 years old, Kane has barely solidified his place as a regular in England’s first team, but he has shown the traits of a leader during his limited time in the spotlight, which has also earned him the vice-captaincy at Tottenham.
While other candidates can go a game or two without a goal and escape criticism, the scrutiny for a striker in the captain’s role will be an interesting caveat if Kane – who would become the first forward to captain England since Michael Owen deputised for Gerrard – takes over for Rooney.