For the last half-decade, there has been an ongoing search amongst Italian fans and media for the Next Andrea Pirlo.
The deep-lying playmaker has been the engine behind the Italian machine for nearly 10 years. Rarely is a single player so important to a national team on the elite level at which the Azzurri play.
His importance was magnified during the debacle that was the 2010 World Cup. Pirlo was unavailable due to injury for all but the last 34 minutes of the final match, and Marcello Lippi's team looked absolutely lost.
Consider the following: In the two games plus 56 minutes that Pirlo was unavailable, the Italians scored two goals, one from a corner and one from a penalty kick. In the 34 minutes that Pirlo played against Slovakia, the Italians put the ball into the net three times—one goal was controversially called back for offside—all from open play.
With Pirlo confirming that next year's World Cup will be his last tournament in Savoy blue, Cesare Prandelli will be faced with the prospect of being permanently without his talisman for the first time since the early part of the century.
Who can he call upon to take Pirlo's place? Let's look at some of the best players available.
All stats are from WhoScored.com