QPR in the dock as season-decider looms
I have only ever owned one new car. Rattle-free motoring, flawless paintwork and it smelt, ah, the smell...it was factory fresh.
But then I had to give it back. You see I didn't really own it at all. The company that made it owned it and, once it was established I didn't have the money to properly buy it, they wanted it back to sell to somebody else.
It's an arrangement Instituto de Cordoba will recognise. Like me, the Argentine club hired something (in their case a midfielder called Alejandro Faurlin) for two years. They had an option to buy but that was always unlikely.
So Faurlin went back to his real owners and they repeated the transaction with the next wide-eyed punter eager to try a luxury item they couldn't quite afford.
So far, so what? Most South American clubs are skint. They might have decent players but they don't own them. Hiring in talent is the norm and there is nothing unusual about a midfielder being owned by a "third party", be they a group of agents, a bank or even a supermarket.
But what if the next punter in the chain was not South American but from South Africa Road? Could an English club "buy" a player but still allow a third party to "own" him? Aren't there rules against that kind of thing?
QPR were promoted at the weekend but face an anxious week as the FA rule on the Alejandro Faurlin (left) case
The answers to those questions - and a few more - should be revealed on Friday as this week witnesses the culmination of a thrilling Championship campaign.
Sadly, the action will take place behind the closed doors of an office somewhere in London and the stars will be m'learned friends from the Football Association and Queens Park Rangers, the wide-eyed punter in question.
What will happen over three days of evidence-giving, cross-examining and justice-weighing is almost anybody's guess and anybody who tells you otherwise doesn't really understand what is going on.
Cards on table time. In recent weeks, I too have had a conversation with an FA source that has gone in broadly the same direction as the one reported by The Sun last Friday.
In case you missed it, this is the conversation that implied QPR were guilty of breaching FA rules and risked losing 15 points from their table-topping total. This would deprive Rangers of silverware and any return to the Premier League would have to be via the treacherous paths of the play-offs.
The article provoked fury from the club, with manager Neil Warnock in vintage "us against them" form, and a rapid retraction from Wembley. This was hardly surprising given what is at stake, a place at the Premier League's roulette wheel, where even the most incompetent gambler has guaranteed TV revenues of £90m to play with.
Rich guys - and QPR's owners Lakshmi Mittal, Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore are very rich, Mittal in particular - routinely play for high stakes and they do not get rich by losing. The FA needs a legal row with these people like it needs another hole in the ground, hence my hesitation to publish any prediction for the big FA v QPR clash. But there was another reason for my caution: this is uncharted territory.
There is a temptation to draw close comparisons with the Carlos Tevez saga of 2007 when a Tevez-inspired West Ham narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League, sending Sheffield United down instead. The temptation should be avoided because Tevez provides parallels not precedents.
Four years ago, the striker's "economic rights" belonged to Media Sports Investment, a company controlled by football agent Kia Joorabchian. This arrangement might have made sense back home for Tevez (and fellow hire-purchase Hammer Javier Mascherano) but it did not sit well with the Premier League or Sheffield United. Especially, United.
Now is not the time to recount the details of everything that happened but it is important to get an important fact straight. Third-party ownership was not explicitly banned at the time of the duo's arrival, or even when Tevez embarked on his one-man rescue act at the end of the season.
What West Ham were adjudged to have done wrong was enter into a contract with a another party that could "materially influence" them. With no third-party ban in the handbook, rule U18 was the best the Premier League could come up with - that and a second charge of failing to act in "good faith" when the Hammers did not disclose the true nature of their sensational transfer scoop.
Having decided to plead guilty, the club paid a high price for these mistakes (a £5.5m fine and compensation payments to Sheffield United that are still costing £4m a year) but kept their points.
That decision was reached for two main reasons: one, the season was coming to a climax, making any points deduction almost fatal; and two, league bosses were terrified of provoking legal action that could drag on for years, causing chaos throughout football.
As it happened, they nearly got the latter, which concentrated minds to get U18 overwritten with L34 and L35, specific Premier League rules banning third-party ownership.
Subsequent potential "Tevezs", such as Manchester City's purchase of Jo, have been avoided and it seemed English football had found a framework to cope with the influx of third party-owned South American talent.
Until two months ago, that is, when QPR were hit with seven breaches of FA rules, four relating to the corresponding bits of the governing body's rulebook on third-party ownership, two for false documentation and a final charge for using an unauthorised agent to broker the deal that brought Faurlin to west London in July 2009.
It is the precise details of that deal, and what QPR said at the time, that will be dissected by the four-man disciplinary panel this week. It will not be easy.
Faurlin's journey from promising playmaker in Cordoba to the conductor of Warnock's wonderful Rangers ensemble has been shrouded in mystery ever since Instituto admitted they did not have the $1m (£601,000) his owners, three Argentine agents, wanted for a permanent deal.
Two months later he was being announced as QPR's record signing in a deal "worth" £3.5m. A huge sum for a player from Argentina's second tier, especially when the "selling" club got nothing.
Faurlin's price tag would probably have gone unquestioned if the Football League was not forced to replicate the entire Premier League rulebook last summer in return for more of the top flight's TV cash. This belatedly brought the rules of the two leagues and the FA into line.
It was at this point QPR asked the Football League for permission to buy out Faurlin's Argentine owners and make an honest man of him, so to speak.
The Football League said "OK, but you'll have to run it by the FA", and the FA said "hold on, this isn't what you told us when we waived through the first deal".
Or maybe not and this is just an massive misunderstanding/minor paperwork error.
What we can say is that the FA eventually allowed QPR to "re-sign" the by-now crowd favourite and put him on a four-year contract. But it also started an investigation into the original transfer that has culminated in these charges.
We must also state clearly that QPR deny all "intentional wrongdoing" and have not followed West Ham's lead by pleading guilty to anything. They intend to fight.
The stage, therefore, is set for the Championship decider.
On the one side you have a determination to show the rules have teeth, guard against countersuits from promotion-chasing rivals and rectify the nagging feeling that maybe, just maybe, West Ham got away with it.
And on the other, you have a real fear of legal repercussions from QPR's billionaire owners, sympathy for players who have achieved something truly special and a nagging feeling that these sanctions hurt the fans most of all.
So I'm not making any predictions about this week's result. I will merely note that QPR's healthy points tally makes a compromise between those two positions entirely possible. Now there's a stroke of luck.