Walter Mazzarri desperately scanned the bench for the player, who would give his team a much-needed shot in the arm.
Inter was on the ropes, down 1-0 to Milan in the 77th minute, unable to register a single shot on target in a game that was quickly moving beyond its reach.
Mazzarri had to make a substitution that would lift his team's spirits and breathe life back into his listless squad. He had to get this right.
He peered into the eyes of his 40-year-old captain. He saw a club legend who had given 19 years of his life to the Nerazzurri. A man who was universally respected and had no enemies. A true role model in the age of shameless self-promotion and insatiable brand building.
The veteran was more than eager to answer the call, it would be his final Derby della Madonnina and he was relishing the chance to rally his team one last time.
Mazzarri looked inquisitively at his other option, an inconsistent Argentine left-footer, who had been jeered by the San Siro faithful in recent games for his dipping form and refusal to sign a contract extension.
The 26-year-old hadn't scored in his last 19 appearances and there were rumblings he was angling for a move away from the club in the summer.
Mazzarri mulled over this critical choice and made his decision. It was a no brainer... Ricky Alvarez was the man to turn things around.
Inter failed to rustle up any opportunities in the final 12 minutes and finished without a shot on target as Mazzarri denied Javier Zanetti the chance to appear in his last city derby.
It was a shocking snub, one which left fans of the club crying foul, and rightfully so. The Curva Nord will be closed for Inter's final home game against Lazio and the captain was robbed of the chance for a proper sendoff; a moment that should have gone down in club lore.
Mazzarri could have saved himself the trouble by giving Zanetti the start, but he chose Jonathan instead, the much-maligned wingback, whose fitness was a question mark after a four-game layoff.
Then again, there wasn't much that Mazzarri did get right as he fell into the trap of playing not to lose. The obvious downside of the strategy is that your team rarely comes out victorious and Inter went out 'not with a bang but a whimper,' to borrow a line from T.S. Eliot.
The players should shoulder some of the blame for the dismal display, but Mazzarri deserves all the criticism he gets for his ultra-conservative approach.
Zanetti is a true throwback, the anti-thesis of players who have PR reps carefully craft their public personas only to see their Potemkin villages collapse under the weight of their transgressions.
We like to villainize players who leave our favorite clubs for bigger paydays, but can you blame some of them when they see the treatment of legends like Zanetti?
Zanetti is the epitome of a consummate professional and is too classy to bring attention to the derby day snub. He has always shied away from the limelight and would never throw anyone under the bus.
The story goes that when Zanetti first appeared at Appiano Gentile he slipped unnoticed past a waiting throng of fans and reporters who were waiting to catch a glimpse of Inter's new signings.
Nobody recognized him until he was officially unveiled on one of the balconies overlooking the crowd. And now thanks to Mazzarri, he exits the derby in the same inconspicuous manner.