Whenever England offer the faintest glimmer of hope, the skipper is seen as a hero in waiting and measured against a Boy's Own view of Bobby Moore to see whether he matches up to the country's expectations of what a real leader of men looks like.
Then, when hope quickly and inevitably fades, the armband becomes an irrelevance in the search for answers to explain another flop.
So it was this year when Fabio Capello's decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy and the appointment of the Chelsea defender's successor assumed huge importance four months ahead of the World Cup before the disastrous performance in South Africa gave us all something more substantial to think about.
Post-Bloemfontein, the concern has been whether Capello is capable of embracing new players and new tactics, and whether there is enough strength in depth in the Premier League for England to ever be a major force in world football.
The status of the captaincy therefore has been a side issue, not least because Rio Ferdinand's continuing absence through injury has allowed to Steven Gerrard to continue in the role unchallenged.
Gerrard, of course, assumed responsibility for leading the team when Ferdinand withdrew with a knee injury on the eve of the World Cup.
Now though, Capello must make a longer term decision. Ferdinand has been rushed back into the squad after recovering something like full fitness and, with Everton's Phil Jagielka now forced to withdraw from Tuesday's game with Montenegro with a hamstring problem, the Manchester United man will start.
Capello has given no clue about his intentions but his approach to the captaincy has always been one of relative indifference, the Terry affair notwithstanding.
The Italian has previously expressed his surprise at the prominence given to the role and while he road-tested the leadership qualities of Gerrard, Terry and Ferdinand when he first took on the job, he inclination is that the most senior player should wear the armband.
Yet as understated as Gerrard's role has been in the last four months, the Liverpool midfielder has impressed as captain.
The World Cup fiasco scarred the coach and players equally but since then Gerrard has led by example on the pitch and spoke candidly about the scale of the task confronting the team as it attempts to recover face.
Gerrard's straight-forward, downbeat tones have struck the right note and while the player has benefitted from the riches swilling around the game as much as anybody, he doesn't come across as overly flash, and that counts right now.
He is clearly no saint as a recent court case triggered by a bar room brawl demonstrates, but in the public's eye, he is generally regarded as being more down to earth than Ferdinand who has no fear of the spotlight.
More importantly, England have shown positive signs of recovery in their three games since the World Cup and have given the impression of being a team that knows hard work lies ahead.
And that's a good enough reason for Capello not to tinker and ask Gerrard to once again lead the team out at Wembley on Tuesday.
I agree one hundred percent with this article. I think Gerrard is the best option for captain of the England squad. Putting Rio Ferdinand back as captain would not be in the best interest of the team, IMO. Gerrard's done a great job (I'm not saying that because I love Gerrard as both a player and a person) with what has gone on in recent months for the England squad, why take him out of it?