Whatever your view of the John Terry scandal, one thing is self-evident: in the end the outcome will hinge on a single issue. It is Fabio Capello's credibility.
This extremely valuable commodity has been created not only by the England head coach's brilliantly assured World Cup qualifying campaign but also the most impressive evidence that he is a man capable of imposing grown-up, professional values on the simpering, self-indulgent boys' club once presided over by the likes of Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren.
But it is an aura surely now at risk of being utterly devalued if Il Capo fails to impose the single most important quality displayed in any form of leadership.
Consistency is, of course, the most important key and to continue to turn it with all his old authority Capello must pass the test presented by Terry's starkly accumulated abuse of the privilege of captaining the national team.
In a most overt way Capello has signposted his duty in this matter, which we are told will be decided, solely by him, at some time before the end of the month. He has, after all, been meticulous about detailing the requirements of a member of his squad.
The player is expected to dress as though fulfilling his obligations as a highly paid professional representing his country and not someone out on a lark. He eats with his team-mates at specified times. He has his mobile phone switched off when he is attending team matters. He keeps his agent and assorted hangers-on off the business premises. He forgets about any vague possibility that the old WAG culture might be revived in even the most fleeting form.
In short, the player is expected to behave like a well-ordered adult capable of devoting a few days exclusively to one of the great challenges of his career. More than anything, the implication is that he has respect for his team-mates in the smallest and biggest ways, in which latter category the concept of hitting on the partner of a colleague and close friend, and mother of his child, would seem to be particularly counter-productive.
Capello has been much applauded for imposing a new level of basic discipline but no one could have mistaken any of it for more than window-dressing, however symbolically it represented a new way of expressing individual responsibilities.
Now just imagine the weight of the charge against Capello if, after these earlier and forcefully imposed strictures – he is said to have been enraged when a hapless player's phone rang at a recent mealtime – he fails to take action against behaviour from Terry that makes such seamy nonsense of the idea that he should continue as the captain of a team.
The indictment will be that he has said one thing for so long and then, when it truly matters, done something quite the opposite. You cannot campaign so hard for more disciplined behaviour and then tolerate an offence against the unity and trust of the dressing room that makes an errant phone call or a tardy arrival in the canteen seem utterly inconsequential.
One argument is, we know, that in the prevailing climate of professional football the latest evidence that Terry wouldn't know a moral or professional dilemma if it struck him between the eyes is of little significance beside his continued ability to perform with success on the field.
Another view is implied in an email received yesterday from a former England cricket captain, which said, "Maybe I'm being a bit naïve, but can anyone tell me what the captain of a football team does, other than shake hands and flick the coin?"
A rhetorical question, no doubt, but the answer surely is that assuming the captain concerned is of the right character, and if he doesn't perform the job as a parody of someone on the make, quite a lot.
This is especially so if we happen to be discussing the late Bobby Moore or Franco Baresi, captains whose authority welled from what they did and who they were. They did not yell or make gestures. They led by example – and by trust.
There is no question that Capello, like his compatriot Carlo Ancelotti, has been impressed by Terry's exceptional commitment on the field, but it is hard to imagine that he will duck the central issue quite as profoundly as did the Chelsea manager at the weekend. Ancelotti rhapsodised Terry's winning goal at Burnley but steadfastly ignored the potential for dressing-room corrosion inherent in the details of an affair which, rather pathetically, led to three Manchester City players displaying T-shirts announcing their support of their offended team-mate, Wayne Bridge.
You might say that Capello, as the manager of a football team operating in the 21st century and not the head of a medieval seminary, would be smart to let the whole tawdry business play itself out and keep a captain who has at least proved himself on the field. It is an argument strengthened, at least in this way of hooded thinking, by the fact that his options are not plentiful, especially when probably the strongest candidate is the currently admirable Wayne Rooney, whose last appearance in a World Cup finals game ended prematurely when he stamped on the genitals of the Portuguese defender Ricardo Carvalho.
The rest of us can only hope that Capello sees the rather deeper issue. If not, his entire regime might be seen as another football lie.
Togo and South Africa need a much fairer deal from Fifa
Fifa, if it is anything more than a relentless and cynical seeker of profit, needs to rally to the cause of African football now.
The first item on its agenda is to exert pressure to revoke the appalling decision to ban Togo from the next two Africa Cup of Nations tournaments because of their withdrawal from the 2010 event after losing two members of their party to a terrorist attack – and having a third, the reserve goalkeeper, still hooked up to a ventilator in a Johannesburg hospital.
Fifa can then turn its attention to the sad possibility that this summer's World Cup in South Africa is already dying on its feet as bushels of tickets are returned to sender.
There is probably not much Fifa can do about the gouging of the hoteliers and the airlines but it can push for cheaper tickets for the large and mostly impoverished percentage of the population who adore the game with such passion.
Rather than merely blame the foreign press for concerns about security – inevitable in that South Africa's violent crime statistics are second only to those of Colombia – it would be better to attempt more quietly but persistently to put them in perspective, especially the absurd linking of the Togo tragedy with the World Cup situation 1,300 miles away.
In this endeavour, it would have at least one ally here. It is certainly no hardship to report on three separate visits to Johannesburg townships in recent weeks, one of them extremely uplifting and lasting the best part of a day and early evening, buttressed by no more security than that provided by a local driver.
There are certain rules to follow, and cautions to be made, no doubt, but doesn't that hold true in most urban environments? It certainly will in Brazil in 2014 and also, when you think of it, perhaps in certain parts of London when the Olympics come to town.
Winner's outlook key factor for Murray
In the tide of advice lapping around Andy Murray following his dismantlement by Roger Federer in a second Grand Slam final, surely the most valuable is supplied by Boris Becker.
Accompanying Becker's suggestion that Murray needs to be rather more proactive are the most impeccable of credentials.
He won Wimbledon when he was 17 and, on losing the title two years later, he reminded the world that no one had died out there on the Centre Court.
Murray can hit a million tennis balls without acquiring such a winning perspective. The Murray war chest is big enough now to fund such an adviser as Becker at the crucial points of his still burgeoning career. The most brilliant coach can make a thousand important points. But he cannot tell you quite how it is. Someone like Becker can – in wonderfully trenchant terms.Reuse content