LONDON • Sunderland sacked Adam Johnson on Thursday night, a day after they were left stunned when he pleaded guilty to charges of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl and grooming her.
Little more than 24 hours after the 28-year-old former Middlesbrough, Manchester City and England winger had admitted kissing a child and grooming her over the Internet but denied two further charges of sexual activity, the struggling English Premier League club terminated his contract.
It is understood club officials had been shocked by his admission of guilt after being led to believe he would plead not guilty to all four charges.
In a brief statement, Sunderland said: "In light of Adam Johnson's guilty pleas, the club have today terminated his contract with immediate effect. The club will make no further comment."
Johnson's once-glittering career is now in ruins and, given the seriousness of the offences he has admitted, there must be serious question marks as to whether he will play professionally again.
Much hinges on the outcome of his trial, which got under way yesterday at Bradford crown court. It is expected to last between 10 days and two weeks.
Earlier on Thursday, Sam Allardyce, Sunderland's manager, had offered no hint of the evening's impending drama, when he confirmed Johnson - understood to have earned around £60,000 (S$121,000) a week - would not be involved in the squad to face Manchester United at the Stadium of Light tomorrow.
"He will not be available for this weekend," said Allardyce. "We will see how it goes after that."
Before Johnson's appearance in court on Wednesday, the manager had been adamant that the player would be available for selection against Louis van Gaal's side but by Wednesday evening, it was being made discreetly clear that he had been excluded from any involvement with the first team.
Johnson joined Sunderland from Manchester City for £10 million in 2012 and has 12 England caps. He made 20 appearances for the club this season, the latest last Saturday at Liverpool, when he stepped off the substitutes' bench to score in the 2-2 draw.
Afterwards, he threw his shirt into the away end. It was to be his final act as a Sunderland player.
He now faces the prospect of a custodial sentence with guidelines for the grooming offence suggesting a maximum prison term of two years and six months.
The maximum possible sentence for the charges he denies is 14 years.