The fate of the two most powerful men in football will be decided in Zurich Monday with Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini bracing for lengthy bans as FIFA's ethics watchdog gives its verdict on a murky multi-million-dollar payment.
FIFA president Blatter, 79, and vice president Platini, 60, were suspended after Swiss prosecutors started a criminal investigation into the cash transfer that Blatter approved for Platini in 2011.
The FIFA judges' ruling is set to have far-reaching repercussions. Lengthy bans for both men would effectively spell the end of their careers in football administration.
Reports have said suspensions of around seven years are likely. That would bring an inglorious end to Blatter's 17-year reign over world football. A ban for Platini would deal a fatal blow to the European football chief's hopes of taking over as head of FIFA when an election for a new president is held on February 26.
FIFA investigators have sought life bans against Blatter and Platini and both men have signalled that appeals will be made.
Blatter told Swiss newspaper Blick on Sunday that he was informed corruption charges against him have been dropped. But he is still believed to face charges of mismanagement and conflict of interest.
Multiple scandals that have hit world football have intensified the spotlight on the inquiry into a two million Swiss franc ($2 million/1.8 million euro) payment that the FIFA leader authorised for Platini.
The money was for work that the French football legend carried out as a consultant from 1998 to 2002. There was no contract and details of the sum owed only appeared in FIFA's accounts after it was paid in 2011.
Blatter was at the time seeking support for a fourth term as FIFA leader and facing a challenge from Mohamed Bin Hammam of Qatar. Platini endorsed Blatter for the presidency but he has insisted there was no link between the payment and the election.
Both men deny corruption and say there was an "oral contract" for the payment because Platini's entire salary for his work could not be paid at the time. No explanation has been given for the delay, however. Chief FIFA judge Hans-Joachim Eckert held hearings for the two men last week. Blatter gave a lengthy defence while Platini boycotted the hearing and had his lawyer read out a statement saying: "I am already judged, I am already condemned."
Blatter has already announced that he will give a press conference at 1000 GMT on Monday in a Zurich restaurant, the Sonnenberg, that used to be FIFA's headquarters.
The Swiss powerbroker has combatively attacked the FIFA action against him, saying it was like "the inquisition". But he also faces a Swiss criminal inquiry into the case. Prosecutors have called the cash transfer a "disloyal payment" and accused him of criminal mismanagement.
The allocation of television broadcasting deals is also being investigated. Blatter and Platini can challenge any ban at a FIFA appeal tribunal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and even in a Swiss civil court.
Blatter would be fighting for his reputation. For Platini, a ban would almost certainly rule him out of the FIFA election. The deadline for candidates to be registered and pass an integrity check is January 26.
With FIFA's reputation in tatters after the arrest of several top officials, Blatter announced four days after winning re-election to a fifth term in May that he would stand down and call a new election.
Seven FIFA officials were arrested in a luxury Zurich hotel two days before the election congress. Now US authorities have charged 39 football officials and sports business executives over more than $200 million in bribes for football television and marketing deals. Swiss prosecutors are in parallel investigating FIFA's management and the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar.
Facing pressure from governments and the International Olympic Committee for major reforms, there are currently five candidates to take over FIFA: Asian football head Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, South African politician and tycoon Tokyo Sexwale, former FIFA vice president Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, UEFA general-secretary Gianni Infantino and Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA assistant general secretary from France.