Gareth Barry's long-awaited return to the England team was regarded by many observers as a galvanising factor for the two 3-0 successes against Israel and Russia in September.
Although the partnership between Emile Heskey and Michael Owen was lauded for providing the finishing touches, it was the dovetailing between the 26-year-old and Steven Gerrard in the centre of midfield which had critics purring.
"The point is your star players don't always make your star team," said former England manager Graham Taylor after the Russia match.
"You have to get the balance and the shape right and anyone can see the balance and shape Barry has given this side.
"Barry has had to wait for his chance. He played 27 times for the England Under-21s and never made that step into the full side but all along, he's had an inner conviction that he is good enough to play for his country."
That conviction was severely tested over the three-and-a-half years he spent in the international wilderness during Sven-Goran Eriksson's reign.
And what made it more galling for the Sussex-born player, is that it came at a time when England were struggling to find left-sided players.
Having made his debut as a 19-year-old against Ukraine in May 2000, Barry was called-up to the England squad by Kevin Keegan for the European Championship the same year.
But when it came to Sven-Goran Eriksson's first game in charge, Barry was relegated to the under-21s and featured only intermittently over the next six years.
Contrast that with another teenager who made his England debut the same day.
Steven Gerrard joined Barry at the Euros that summer but he went on to pick up 47 caps during Eriksson's tenure. In the same period Barry earned just seven.
"There were times when I thought I was not going to get back in again," Barry said.
"Three or four years have ticked by; you have not made a squad - and you start fearing the worst.
"Under Sven, I basically gave up hope. But I always felt I was playing well enough, that time was still on my side - and I just got my head down at Villa and kept going."
That approach eventually lead to Villa boss Martin O'Neill handing him the captaincy and last season shifting him into the middle of the park where he flourished.
So after spending years hoping for a call-up when England were devoid of a left-footed player, Barry perversely got a chance to re-unite with Gerrard in an area considered to be an embarrassment of riches.
The leading argument with Barry, however, was that he brought a completely new dynamic to England's midfield.
While Lampard has been on form for Chelsea over recent seasons, when he does not score, his role in the team has been questioned. And as a more direct player, he can be liable to misplace his passes.
Gareth Barry in action for England against Israel
Playing alongside Gerrard, Barry showed patience, an ability to link play simply and let the attacking players pour forward.
And the fact the pair have been firm friends since making their international debuts, adds an interesting footnote as to why they clicked.
Barry's biggest contribution may well be the pressure he has now put on England's central midfield positions.
But, despite his lack of international experience, he is quietly confident that he can hold his own.
"There is competition everywhere, and it is nice to put my name among the great players being talked about to start for their country," he said.
"It would be great to start - and it was nice to put in two good performances and be talked about for the way I played."
With Gerrard struggling for form and Lampard coming back from injury, it may be that McClaren has to choose between the attacking midfielders rather than cut Barry adrift once again.