John Terry's sullied reputation cannot withstand another blow.
If Anton Ferdinand decides this afternoon to publicly accuse the England captain of a racist slur, he will almost certainly be delivering the coup de grace to Terry's international career.
The incident in question occurred late on in a fractious encounter between QPR and Chelsea on Sunday. Video footage appears to capture Terry mouthing the words "you f***king black ****" in the direction of Ferdinand, the brother of Terry's one-time England defensive partner Rio.
Terry doesn't deny using those words but is claiming the whole affair is a misunderstanding—that he was in fact refuting Ferdinand's accusation of racism, and hence angered by the very suggestion.
"I thought Anton was accusing me of using a racist slur against him. I responded aggressively, saying that I never used that term,” Terry said in a statement.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to clear my name and I don’t have anything to hide. I’m not taking that level of abuse. Anton and I spoke for 10 minutes in the dressing room after the game and there is no issue between us.”
Watching the footage, it's impossible to tell. Ashley Cole walks in front of Terry just before he delivers the alleged slur, blocking out the moment where presumably Terry is supposed to have said, "I didn't call..."
Have a look for yourself, and see if you think that's a viable explanation.
Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas today gave his full backing to his captain, voicing his frustration at the lack of faith afforded to the 30-year-old.
He said to me the incident was a big misunderstanding. That's why he put his statement out straight away. I find it strange when people don't trust the words of a representative from your country."
It was a naive choice of words from Villas-Boas, who presumably forgot the gross act of Terry dishonesty that cost him the England captaincy at last summer's World Cup.
Terry's affair with Vanessa Peroncell made him a national hate figure in England. Footballers can cheat on their wives all they like (providing it's not with prostitutes), but jumping into bed with the mother of your teammate's child crosses the boy's-own code.
Wayne Bridge was so humiliated he turned down the chance to go the 2010 World Cup with England. Terry lost the captaincy, but proceeded to play every game in South Africa and behave like he was still wearing the armband.
Clearly he has friends inside the England camp, but judging by this famous interview with Craig Bellamy, there are plenty in the game who wouldn't vouch for his moral code.
Is it really plausible that Terry would have directed a racist slur at Ferdinand, though? You'd like to think not, but based on his rap sheet there will be many who already have him as guilty.
Terry has few friends away from Stamford Bridge, and an army of haters desperate to see him chopped to his knees.
But just because Terry cheated on his wife, humiliated a teammate and tried to buy secrecy doesn't make him a racist. It just means there is a huge number of people who'd like to believe he is.
We await news from QPR, where Ferdinand is either faced with the straightforward task of confirming Terry's story, or delivering an accusation with the potential to bring down the England captain. If it's indeed the latter, the fires will burn all the way to Euro 2012 and beyond.