RIO FERDINAND heads to Bolton for the biggest battle of his career today with players' chief Gordon Taylor believing the verdict has already been delivered against Manchester United' s record signing.
Not since Eric Cantona launched himself into the crowd at Selhurst Park nine years ago has any disciplinary question captured attention as Ferdinand did when he failed to appear for a random drugs test at United's Carrington training ground in September.
Cantona eventually received a nine-month ban for his misdemeanour, a sentence which pales alongside the two-year suspension Ferdinand faces if a three-man disciplinary panel decides to inflict the largest punishment available to them.
That verdict may - or may not - be delivered late tomorrow evening by panel chairman Barry Bright, who banned Roy Keane for eight games last year, before which Ferdinand and his legal team will spend two long days trying to wriggle free.
Their case will be fairly straightforward - Ferdinand forgot to take the test, offered to come back 90 minutes later and was turned down - and Taylor is convinced of the argument.
But such publicity has been generated and so many influential members of the sporting fraternity have expressed an opinion, he does not believe Ferdinand has any chance of justice.
"Any opportunity to deal with the matter objectively has been lost," the Professional Footballers' Association chief executive said.
"The whole thing is a complete mess and the FA have put themselves into a very difficult position.
"On one hand you have Sepp Blatter trying to make Rio out to be public enemy number one, on the other you have the feeling of the FA trying to stand up to Manchester United.
"I don't want to pre-judge the hearing but it appears the FA feel they have to put a marker down. I believe they will look to make Rio a scapegoat.
"If that happens, it would be extremely unfair."
Taylor is concentrating his energies on maintaining Ferdinand's reputation.
With the eyes of the country on them, the three-man independent panel must steer a middle course between handing down a ban that would have been automatic in virtually any other sport and the fine Manchester City's Christian Negouai received.
Negouai also missed giving a sample, but he had been delayed picking his mother up from the airport on his way to the test - circumstances Ferdinand cannot state in his defence.
The situation has not been made easier by FIFA president Sepp Blatter's interventions.
Despite United and the FA dismissing his claims Ferdinand should have been instantly suspended, Blatter has maintained his offensive and again hinted he may refuse to sanction any punishment if he deems it not to be severe enough.
"If we condemn a player who has either refused or miraculously forgotten to take a drugs test it is not FIFA that is at fault," he said.
"But those directly responsible for this inexcusable omission and its aftermath, that is the individual himself, his club, and the FA, which has not swiftly enforced the laws on the suspension of players that ought to be applied.
"If FIFA sees this sort of thing happening, it is its duty to intervene."
Since criticising Blatter's stance, United chief executive David Gill has kept a low profile on the issue, as have the rest of the Old Trafford hierarchy.
Privately though they reject any notion that a deal has been struck for Ferdinand not to appeal if he receives a three-month ban.
Claiming their player is guilty of nothing more than absent-mindedness, United are convinced Ferdinand should only receive a fine in proportion to Negouai's and no more than that.