LEGALLY, there is nothing to stop Adam Johnson returning to a career in professional football following his release from prison. In this country at least, though, it extremely hard to see the former Middlesbrough and Sunderland winger being able to pick up where he left off when he was jailed in 2016.

Football clubs have become increasingly reluctant to sign players with a controversial past in the wake of the furore that exploded when Ched Evans was released in October 2014 after serving two-and-a-half years of a prison sentence for rape that was subsequently overturned.

Sheffield United, Hartlepool United and Oldham Athletic all expressed an interest in signing Evans prior to his acquittal, but were all forced to step back in the face of overwhelming public anger and warnings from sponsors that they would consider their position if a deal was agreed.

The reaction if a team approached Johnson would be equally as negative if not worse, and even in a world as mercenary as football, it is hard to imagine any club putting themselves in such a controversial position.

Even if they decided the negative publicity was worth it, the practicalities of offering Johnson a contract would be hard to overcome. As a convicted sex offender, Johnson’s name will remain on the Sex Offenders’ Register for at least the next 15 years, and during that time, he will remain subject to strict conditions controlling his contact with minors.

How would a football club, with academy teams, mascots and often senior players under the age of 18 deal with the legal restrictions Johnson will have to adhere to?

Given that he does not turn 32 until July, Johnson may well feel he still has something to offer on the football pitch. He has reportedly been keeping himself fit in prison because he wants a future in the game.

Realistically, however, that future would surely have to be abroad, and while the UK police would have to give permission for him to leave the country, perhaps playing overseas is the only realistic option available to him.

He would be barred from gaining employment in some countries – most notably China and the United States - but others would not enforce British legal rulings. If he wants to return to football, emigration might have to be his next move.