Sheffield United insist they have made no decision over the future of convicted rapist Ched Evans.
The footballer was convicted of rape in April 2012 and jailed for five years but has maintained his innocence while behind bars.
The former Wales international footballer is due to be released next month and an online petition - signed by more than 60,000 people - has urged the League One club not to re-employ the striker they originally signed for £3m in 2009.
But there is a portion of Blades supporters who believe Evans has “served his time” and should be allowed to earn a living on his release in his chosen profession.
Set against this backdrop, United have stayed silent knowing they face a backlash whatever stance they take.
But Blades co-chairman Jim Phipps has told The Yorkshire Post that no decision has been made, and the club may even wait until after Evans’s release.
“We acknowledge it’s a very difficult issue, and we are still puzzling through it,” said Phipps. “We don’t have a clear answer. From the hierarchy, which includes me, we have not made a decision.”
But Phipps did explain United’s first decision would be at boardroom level and whether the club would damage their “brand” by re-signing Evans. That could include if United felt it was morally correct, and if the striker’s return would cause sponsors to not want to be associated with the Bramall Lane club.
Only with the board’s approval, would manager Nigel Clough be given the green light to decide if he wanted to recruit Evans, who scored 42 goals in 103 appearances for United.
Phipps said: “We certainly acknowledge that there are different sides on this and we feel ourselves are no different from everyone else. We feel the whole set of issues.
“The other thing which people expect is we will make this decision for football reasons. But this is a special case, it’s unusual.
“A decision will be made first about the brand, and then we will leave the football decision to the football side of things. We just have to wait, as we are not there yet.”
Evans has applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in a bid to have his conviction quashed after the refusal of previous appeals.
Phipps added: “There is a part of the Ched Evans case where he is working to establish his innocence. We are not a part of that. We are a football club trying to get promoted.
“He is out in less than three weeks, my guess people will be pressing us for a decision. At this moment, I would not guarantee we will have one in three weeks.”