Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill has hinted that record signing Asamoah Gyan is unlikely to return to the club.
The £13million-plus Ghana international striker is currently with United Emirates side Al-Ain on a season-long loan deal after securing a shock move away from the Stadium of Light in September.
That agreement was made three months before O'Neill succeeded Steve Bruce, the man who had signed the 26-year-old Gyan from French side Rennes barely 12 months earlier, and although there was talk of a return to Wearside in January, the lucrative agreement between the two clubs did not allow for that.
However, Gyan has two years remaining on his contract and while any decision on his future is yet to be finalised, O'Neill has suggested it may not lie with him.
He said: "The situation is, I believe it was a year-long loan for a start for which they had to pay us some money of the transfer fee which we paid in the first place, and that is still in existence.
"There was some talk between all parties in January that didn't come to anything. I wasn't party to those conversations, although I was kept informed of them, of course.
"I think it will be the end of the season before I can assess anything.
"There has to be a willingness on behalf of all parties as well; you wouldn't really want somebody who is really unwilling to come back to the football club, if that's the case.
"It's unfair of me to say that because it might not be the case, but it seems to be the message that's coming across."
While it would be no real surprise if Gyan did sever his ties with Sunderland, it would leave the Black Cats once again searching for a prolific goalscorer.
Gyan was signed to partner Darren Bent, who left for Aston Villa a little more than four months later, and Danny Welbeck's return to Manchester United and Gyan's unexpected departure left Bruce and then O'Neill short of firepower.
Nicklas Bendtner's capture on loan from Arsenal for the current campaign has gone some way towards addressing the situation, but with youngster Connor Wickham and South Korea international Ji Dong-won yet to be given their heads and Fraizer Campbell still dealing with the aftermath of a second lengthy injury lay-off, the cupboard remains rather bare.
However, amid mounting speculation over potential targets and possible departures, O'Neill insists he is yet to speak to owner Ellis Short about his plans for the summer.
He said: "I haven't considered it and I certainly haven't had an opportunity to speak to a very important man at the football club who happens to own it.
"We will sit down, we will assess it. I think he is going to be here for the last couple of games of the season, which is encouraging."
Meanwhile, the Black Cats will head into tomorrow's Barclays Premier League clash with bottom side Wolves with the respective fortunes of the two clubs having differed markedly since they last met on December 4.
That day O'Neill sat in the stands at Molineux having been announced as manager but yet to take charge, and saw the team he was about to inherit lose 2-1 despite taking the lead and squandering a penalty.
Wolves went three points ahead of their visitors that day but have since claimed just eight more, while O'Neill's men have amassed a further 31 to secure their place in the top flight.
O'Neill said: "I have to say I was obviously very concerned coming in. I got a great response from the players, a great response from the supporters and between them they got some results."
Sunderland might not have been in league action this weekend had they managed to make the most of the FA Cup quarter-final replay they earned with a 1-1 draw at Everton, although a 2-0 defeat on Wearside ended their dreams for another season.
O'Neill said: "I must admit, I look with a bit of envy at the match this weekend between Liverpool and Everton.
"I know how far we have come ourselves, so I don't know whether to be spurred by that there or to be in a state of deathliness."