It is nearly a year since Birmingham City captain Kenny Cunningham hinted that the 2005-06 season would be his last. The body, he said, might not take much more Premiership football.
Now, there is a growing belief that Cunningham really is playing his final Premiership campaign. He has already retired from international football - he was a fine leader for the Republic of Ireland - and might be facing harsh realities. He is 34 and has been playing professionally since 1988.
Cunningham faces a month out with a groin injury, having limped out of Birmingham's match at home to Portsmouth last Saturday. Blues still won 5-0 but the next three weeks will be tougher in Cunningham's absence.
A scan has revealed a grade one tear for the central defender, who has been unable to participate in training for the past fortnight, and is looking an increasingly uncomfortable figure.
Steve Bruce, the Birmingham manager, does not have a ready-made replacement for the FA Cup-tie away to Reading on Saturday. That is partly because Matthew Upson is suspended and Martin Taylor has an ankle injury, but mainly because Cunningham is unique.
"Kenny's scan has revealed a grade one tear, and that normally means you are out for about 21 days." Bruce said. "We might be able to patch him up. But that is hardly ideal, so I have got to concentrate my efforts on someone coming in to give us a hand."
A dip into the transfer market might be Bruce's best option, except that he is no longer interested in signing Lucien Mettomo, the former Manchester City defender, who was on trial with Birmingham this week. Mettomo, aged 28, plays for Kaiser-slautern in Germany.
Bruce could play Mario Melchiot, Olivier Tebily or his own son, Alex, in the middle against Reading but these options are not ideal. The lack of experience at the back could hurt Birmingham in such a difficult match.
But that is a matter for the present. For the future, Cunningham is nearing the end of a distinguished career, during which he became Bruce's best signing for Birmingham.
Cunningham arrived from Wimbledon on a free transfer in the summer of 2002 and was an instant hit. There are few cleverer defenders, or more experienced players, in the Premiership and Cunningham has helped to bring the best out of Upson.
Cunningham does not have quick feet but he is usually five yards ahead of everyone else in the mind. He is a fine man, too, and his only fault is that he continues to believe that he has a full head of hair. The rest of us know better.
If, as is expected, Cunning-ham's career in the Premiership ends in May, it will be as sad for him as it will be for Birmingham. He has played 691 first-class matches and is an example to young players of how brains and athleticism can go hand in hand.
Cunningham made himself infamous during the 2002 World Cup. Steve Finnan, now with Liverpool, then with Fulham, revealed that Cunningham would exercise naked when they shared a room in Japan. The central defender played well in Korea/Japan 2002.
It is unlikely that Birmingham would have survived three successive seasons in the Premiership without Cunningham but, alas, time catches up with us all. Bruce, himself a defender of quality, needs to act quickly and he knows it.
Birmingham have still to make a formal offer for Peter Lovenkrands, the Rangers striker, although they have spoken with the player's agent. It is believed that Blues are offering a four-year contract at £20,000 a week, which would be an increase on his salary with Rangers.
Lovenkrands is able to speak to other clubs outside Scotland because his contract runs out in the summer.
Bruce is still interested in Jason Euell, the Charlton Athletic midfield player, but, at present, solving his defensive problems on a short-term basis has become a priority. Long-term, the matter is even more serious, especially if Cunningham does call it a day.