Sheffield Hallam MP Nick Clegg has warned Sheffield United to “think really long and hard” before deciding whether to allow Ched Evans to play for them again.
Sheffield United have allowed convicted rapist Evans to train with their players and have faced strong criticism as a result.
Clegg, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, thinks the club needs to consider what message they are sending to young fans with regards to their dealings with Evans.
“I think the owners need to think really long and hard about the fact that when you take a footballer on, you are not taking just a footballer these days, you are also taking on a role model,” Clegg told LBC Radio.
“You are taking on a role model, particularly for a lot of young boys who look up to their heroes on a football pitch in a team like that, and he has committed a very serious crime.
“It is for the football club to decide, but I really do think that footballers these days, they are major public figures who have a public responsibility to set an example for other people.
“I’m sure that will weigh heavily in the decisions made by the owners of Sheffield United.”
UPDATE: The deputy PM has gone on to make further comments, suggesting Evans could play abroad to restart his career.
He said: ”If it was me, then I think I wouldn’t take him on.
“I think football stars play such an important role in the community where their clubs are supported, they’re looked up to as role models, so I wouldn’t.
“The reason I’ve just constantly said that the football clubs should think long and hard about this is that I always want to protect the football clubs’ right to take their own decisions.
“Left entirely to me, just because the status of football stars, I wouldn’t [let him train].”
Mr Clegg was challenged over whether not letting Mr Evans play for Sheffield United would turn him into a “pariah” unable to sign for another club.
He added: “No. I don’t know, he maybe could play for a club abroad for a while before coming back,”
He explained that because Mr Evans was playing for Sheffield United when the offence took place meant the club had a “very particular” decision to take about whether to reemploy him.
“Of course people need to move on in their lives and of course once you’ve done your time you’ve done your time,” Mr Clegg said.
“I just think it’s a very specific responsibility for the employer at the time he committed the offence and given that he’s a role model - as I know, as a Sheffield MP - in the Sheffield community for United supporters.”
The Star Editor’s opinon: No way back for Ched Evans
Evans, a former Wales international striker, was released from jail last month after serving half of a five-year jail term imposed in April 2012 for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room in Rhyl, North Wales.