In the age of the celebrity footballer, few players have commanded more coverage – front and back of newspapers – than John Terry, but the charges laid against him yesterday by the Crown Prosecution Service represent the battle of his life.
The allegation of racially aggravated abuse faced by Terry is the most serious yet against him. Now he stands one decision away from being the only man to be stripped of the England captaincy twice.
Should Terry be found guilty of the charge – for his alleged remarks directed at QPR's Anton Ferdinand on 23 October – then he will never captain England again. The question then will be whether he is permitted to play for the team again, given the seriousness with which the Football Association claims that it treats the issue of racism in football.
This is the mother of all cases for the FA. In comparison, Tuesday's eight-game ban for Luis Suarez looks relatively straightforward. Even once Terry's case has been dealt with by the courts, an outcome that is almost certain to be delayed by a not guilty plea when he goes to West London Magistrates on 1 February, there is then the question of the FA case against him.
The governing body had to suspend its investigation into Terry when the Metropolitan Police announced their intention to take over the Ferdinand case. Regardless of what happens in court, the FA will still have to decide whether there is a case to answer. England's first game of Euro 2012 is still five months and 22 days away but there are two legal processes to be resolved before Fabio Capello names his provisional squad in late May.
In the past, the FA has worked on a basis that players are innocent until proven guilty and continued to select them for international duty. The most recent example was Steven Gerrard's time spent facing an affray charge – for which he was later acquitted in 2009 – during which the Liverpool captain continued to play for England.
In an ideal world, the FA would have continued that policy but things are very rarely ideal when it comes to the national team. A race abuse charge is a different prospect altogether and there can be no expectation that if Terry's case is still unresolved by the time England play the Netherlands on 29 February that Fabio Capello will be permitted to select the player.
It is not the maximum £2,500 fine that will concern Terry. It is the potential for a stain on his character that a guilty verdict will guarantee. This is a man with ambitions well beyond his playing career, one who, rightly or otherwise, believes he will be given the chance to manage Chelsea one day. But these are not the opportunities that would be afforded to a convicted racist.
Terry denies the charges against him and no doubt he will approach this case with the same determination that has been one of the overriding themes of his career. He has needed it.
Even aside from the kiss-and-tells there have been embarrassing episodes of misjudgment. Parking his car in a disabled bay. Urinating in public in a nightclub. Allegedly allowing his box at Wembley Stadium to be offered for hire against the terms of the stadium's contract. Unauthorised training ground tours at Chelsea's Cobham headquarters for cash (Terry claimed it was for charity). The alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's former partner Vanessa Perroncel.
It was the media firestorm that followed that alleged affair that led to Terry being sacked as England captain for the first time until he was reinstated last year. The list of indiscretions is long. It is a pity because this is undoubtedly a talented footballer, one who, for all the baggage he brings, has held down a place in the Chelsea and England team on merit after all these years and in spite of the physical toll.
Speak to Terry and he is affable and eager to please. But he is also streetwise – to a certain extent. He has always demanded that, despite being a kid from the Chelsea youth teams, he was paid a comparable wage with the famous foreign names who have come to the club. Terry is astute to the extent that he will come to the press room at Stamford Bridge to chat to journalists. He knows that in his position he needs some allies, and now he needs them more than ever.
Time and again, Terry's ability as a footballer as well as his outspoken nature in the dressing room has rescued him. Leaders such as him, managers say, are increasingly rare in the modern game. Capello brought him back as captain even though he felt the player went too far in his public criticism of him during the World Cup finals in South Africa.
Of all the accusations levelled at him over the years, this one is undoubtedly the most serious. He has proved remarkably durable to criticism over his career despite having a public approval rating that, beyond the loyal Chelsea supporters, is low for an England captain. His career hangs in the balance, but Terry has been in similar situations before and, in his mind at least, he has prevailed every time.
England players in the dock... and how the fa dealt with them
Paul Gascoigne Admitted in 1994 to beating his former wife Sheryl, but didn't face a national team ban.
Rio Ferdinand Convicted of drink-driving in 1997 and dropped from England squad for one game. Missed drug test in 2003, given eight-month ban and absent from Euro 2004.
James Beattie Found guilty of drink-driving in 2002. The FA allowed him to play for England.
Lee Bowyer Cleared of assault and affray after a student in Leeds was attacked. FA banned him from the squad until the trial was over.
Jonathan Woodgate Guilty of affray for the same incident Bowyer was cleared of. Banned from international selection for three years, missing 2002 World Cup.
Nicky Butt Allowed to play for England after being arrested on suspicion of assaulting a woman in a nightclub. Butt was not charged by police.
Alan Smith Called up in 2003 but sent home when FA learnt he had been arrested after throwing a bottle into the crowd. Smith apologised and was not charged by police.
Joey Barton Jailed for six months in 2008 for assault. Not played for England since 2007 debut.
Steven Gerrard Arrested in 2008 following an incident at a bar in Southport. Allowed to play for England during the trial where he was cleared of affray.
Ledley King Arrested in 2009 outside a nightclub following an alleged assault. Issued an apology, but was not charged by police and faced no action from the FA.
Andy Carroll Pleaded guilty to common assault in 2010 but was not banned from playing for England.Reuse content