ALEX FERGUSON appears to have nudged Dimitar Berbatov closer to the Manchester United exit door after handing Michael Owen a new one-year contract.
It was widely assumed Owen would leave Old Trafford this summer after making only 17 appearances this term, which yielded five goals.
Instead, Ferguson values the 31-year-old's contribution enough to reward him with an additional season.
Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney have already established themselves as a potent striking partnership and Danny Welbeck is due to return from Sunderland, having performed well enough on Wearside to gain his first England cap, so Ferguson already has plenty of striking options at his disposal.
In addition, it is anticipated the United manager will add to his reserves of strength by making at least one additional signing in the striking department.
If a new face does come in, it is difficult to see where there would be room for Berbatov, who was devastated by his omission from United's squad for the Champions League final.
The 30-year-old Bulgarian did not warrant a mention in Ferguson's assessment of why Owen made so few appearances last term, although there was a pledge the former England man will be involved more often next year.
"Michael has proved to be a top footballer," said Ferguson.
"It is unfortunate that he did not get more opportunities, but the form of Chicharito (Hernandez) put everyone in the shade and his partnership with Rooney proved invaluable.
"I am delighted Michael is staying for a further year and we will look to give him more opportunities in the new season."
That will suit Owen, who finally has a Premier League title medal to go with the collection of cup competitions he amassed at Liverpool.
"I am delighted to have agreed a one-year extension to my contract," he said.
"To play alongside so many great players, under an exceptional manager, and in front of so many passionate supporters is a real inspiration. I can't wait for next season to start."
Berbatov is saying much the same.
However, it is debatable whether the private thoughts of this most thoughtful of characters match the bullish rhetoric he came out with on his return home.
"It was embarrassing for me -- that I was not included in the group," Berbatov told Bulgarian newspaper 24 Chassa.
"I was in the dressing-room. I watched the final from there. I didn't want people to see the pain in my eyes."
The striker has a year remaining on his contract, which the club have an option to extend by a further season.
However, talks have broken down, and, so far, there is no hint that they are about to be renewed. Yet, for now at least, Berbatov is ready to battle.
"I will remain at United. I will fight for my place and I will fight for title number 20," he said.
"If I was a man who gave up easily, I would never be here in the first place -- starting July 4, everything begins all over again -- my personal fight to be in the first team, and for United to win more titles."
United are set to offer South Korean Ji-Sung Park a new deal, but the future of Darron Gibson -- out of contract next summer -- is unlikely to be resolved until the new year, should he remain at the club beyond this summer.