Sunderland boss Jack Ross has revealed that an exit for AWOL midfielder Didier Ndong is 'edging closer'.
The Gabon international failed to return for pre-season training at the Academy of Light and has remained absent since - making very clear that his future lies away from Wearside.
Clubs have shown an interest in Ndong, with Torino and more latterly Benfica both entering talks over a deal for the central midfielder - who still remains the Black Cats' record signing.
Talks with the Italian side later collapsed, but there were hopes that a deal could be sealed for a switch to Portugal as their transfer window remains open until later this evening.
But Ross has confirmed that - as far as he is aware - there is no deal in the pipeline with Benfica.
However, the Scot believes that a resolution to the saga is 'edging closer', and hinted that it may be a different one than that seen with fellow wantaway Papy Djilobodji.
"There's nothing that I've been made aware of it in terms of an imminent departure," said Ross.
"I think that the club are edging closer to trying to find an end to the matter, one way or another.
"Whether that goes down the same path as Djilobodji or whether it is a different one, I'm not entirely sure at the moment.
"I think they would like to get it ended one way or another. How it progresses from there we know already is difficult to say for certain but it won't affect me either way.
"In terms of having him back in the playing squad we've gone long beyond that I think."
Meanwhile, reports from Ndong's homeland suggest that the midfielder is scared of a return to Sunderland - and even believes he could be arrested at the airport.
In an interview with news outlet iSport, a source close to the player revealed his worries and suggested that a negotiator has been appointed to aid discussions with the club.
In reality, Didier Ndong is afraid of reprisals and other sanctions that may be imposed on him by the club," said the source.
“He even thinks he will be arrested at the airport because he has left the club for almost seven months.
“Remember that the club is very up against him, including some of the audience. So it’s hard for him right now.
“For this purpose, we commissioned a London-based negotiator to negotiate with Jack Ross , the team’s manager, for his return to the Black Cats. We hope they understand.”