Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand goes before an independent disciplinary commission on Thursday after a missed drugs test that has caused turmoil in the world's favourite game.
Ferdinand, the sport's most expensive defender, has been charged with misconduct by the Football Association (FA) for his "failure or refusal" to take the test at United's Carrington training ground on September 23.
The nuance between the England centre back failing to take the test and refusing to undergo it will be a crucial aspect of the two-day hearing at Bolton's Reebok Stadium as it will have a direct bearing on the scale of any punishment.
Ferdinand risks a ban of up to two years that would deal a hammer blow to his career for both club and country, and much will turn on whether the three-man commission consider his actions at Carrington were deliberate or not.
Though he passed a test 36 hours later and has strongly denied ever having used drugs, the missed test prompted the FA to drop him for England's decisive Euro 2004 qualifier against Turkey in Istanbul in October.
Since then, the affair has escalated into a series of conflicts involving the entire England squad, their manager, the FA and even the head of the game's ruling body worldwide, FIFA presidentSepp Blatter.
Ferdinand'sEngland team mates were outraged at him being sidelined and only after a series of crisis meetings with the FA did they back down from threats of a first ever player strike by the national team. The sympathies of coach Sven-Goran Eriksson were clearly with the players -- and against his own employers.
TheFA's decision was also bitterly criticised by both United, whose legal counsel will be defending Ferdinand this week, and the English players' union led by Gordon Taylor.
The row with Blatter was equally damaging as the most powerful man in football believes Ferdinand should have been ineligible -- instead of playing regularly --for United after missing the test and has roundly criticised the FA for its handling of the affair.
"Thecase should have been dealt with in a week," he told reporters in Frankfurt earlier this month. "This is not the way things should be done."
Inits defence, the FA is conducting a review of its disciplinary procedures, with a view to introducing a clearer, speedier process from next season.
Inthe meantime, it must await the outcome of the commission's findings, knowing full well that they will be closely scrutinised by both FIFA and United.