Former Sheffield United star Ched Evans will not have his freshest rape conviction appeal attempt considered until 2017.
Evans, who hopes to resume his career with Sheffield United after he leaves prison next month, has applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission to have his conviction quashed after previous appeal attempts were refused.
But the commission has said it will not examine his application until early 2017, which rules out any hopes Evans might have had of clearing his name quickly to help ease what would be a highly controversial return to professional football.
Adidas, which has a kit deal with Sheffield United, has said it will stand by the club should the Welsh international be re-signed.
The company would not have entertained a direct commercial relationship with Evans but has drawn a distinction with the club.
An Adidas spokesman said: “The decision to reinstate a player is ultimately a decision for a club and we remain committed partners of Sheffield United football club and support the club’s handling of the situation to date.”
More than 65,000 people have signed a petition urging United not to resign the footballer.
The club has remained in contact with the centre forward since his conviction in 2012, and officials have visited him in prison where he has been serving a five-year sentence.
Evans has continued to maintain he is innocent of raping a woman at a hotel in Rhyl, in north Wales, in May 2011 but it will be three years before the commission reaches a decision on whether there is sufficient evidence to refer his case back to the Court of Appeal, which has previously rejected earlier appeals against conviction and sentence.
The CCRC has more than 800 cases under consideration and prioritises those that involve those in custody which leaves Evans, who is due out of prison on licence in a matter of weeks, at the back of the queue.
A commission spokesman said detailed consideration by a case review manager was not scheduled to begin until January 2017.
He added: “The commission has written to Mr Evans and his representatives to explain that after an initial review of the case the we have decided that we will need to look at the case in more depth and it will therefore need to be allocated to a Case Review Manager who will conduct a more detailed review.”
Karl Massey, the father of Evans’ partner Natasha Massey, said Evans wished to return to Sheffield United.
Mr Massey, who has helped co-ordinate a campaign against the conviction, said: “He would love to return to Sheffield United, he would absolutely love to but that decision is not in our or his hands.”
The club declined to comment.