Sheffield United bosses insist no decision has yet been made over whether to re-sign convicted rapist Ched Evans.
The former Blades striker is due to be released from prison next month mid-way through a five year sentence imposed for raping a woman on a night out in North Wales in 2011.
Evans has always maintained his innocence and is said to have been keeping fit behind bars with a view to resurrecting his career on his release.
But an online petition - signed by more than 60,000 people - urges his former club not to re-sign the player they originally signed for £3 million in 2009.
Blades co-chairman Jim Phipps said that no decision on Evans’ future has been made.
“We acknowledge it’s a very difficult issue, and we are still puzzling through it,” he said.
“We don’t have a clear answer. From the hierarchy, which includes me, we have not made a decision.”
Phipps said the board would need to discuss whether re-signing Evans would affect the club’s ‘brand’, whether it would be morally correct and whether the striker’s return would affect sponsorship deals.
He added: “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 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.”