London - A former Premier League player who was convicted of rape has been released from jail amid a national debate about whether he should be allowed to play professionally again.
Wales international Ched Evans left a prison in northern England early Friday after serving half of a five-year sentence for raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in north Wales.
The 25-year-old Evans' release was confirmed on a website run by his family which says the former Manchester City player "will continue the fight to clear his name."
Evans was playing for Sheffield United before being convicted, and the third-tier club has yet to say if the striker can return to the squad.
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"We have had one or two discussions," Sheffield United manager Nigel Clough said. "We are awaiting a decision and the owners will make that in good time."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said United should "think really long and hard" before deciding whether to allow Evans back.
"Players these days, they get paid a lot of money, they are public figures and you can't ignore that," said Clegg, who represents a Sheffield district in the House of Commons.
Evans, who has played 13 times for Wales, admitted to having sex with the woman but denied raping her. The woman said in court that she had no memory of the incident and the prosecution said she was too drunk to consent.
Richard Caborn, a former sports minister who is a fan of Sheffield United, said Evans should only be allowed back in the game if he admits wrongdoing.
"Ched Evans is a convicted rapist," Caborn told the BBC. "I wouldn't want to see him in a Sheffield United, or any other, shirt until he acknowledges what he did was wrong and indeed shows some remorse for his actions. I believe that will give him his pathway back to professional football."