THOMAS BUTLER will not play for Sunderland again.
After months of speculation about the Republic of Ireland midfielder's future, the Black Cats finally confirmed today that he is no longer a Sunderland player.
The exact details of the Thomas Butler affair cannot be disclosed at this stage as the matter is still in the hands of lawyers.
But after announcing new squad numbers today which omitted Butler, the Wearsiders made the following brief statement: "The absence of Thomas Butler towards the end of last season has understandably led to supporters questioning the player's status within the club.
"Unfortunately, the club is unable to comment on the situation as it is a legal matter and, for this reason, the details must remain confidential.
"What we can confirm however is that Thomas left the club's employment last season."
Butler has not been seen in a red and white shirt since January, when he was replaced by Kevin Kyle 36 minutes into the 1-0 home win over Nottingham Forest.
The midfielder signed a new contract in August 2002 tying himself to the club until next summer.
It is a sad way for the player's Sunderland career to end after he was seen as one of the brightest prospects to come from the club's youth system.
Butler made his first team debut in the Worthington Cup against Walsall on September 14, 1999, and went on to make 17 starts and a further 18 substitute appearances.
Following the sale of Kevin Kilbane to Everton just over a year ago, it appeared Butler could finally make the breakthrough as a first-team regular, but he was affected by ankle injuries before slipping from the picture early this year.