Aston Villa have activated a clause in Luke Moore's contract that ensures he will not be leaving on a free transfer in the summer.
But the club's decision to take up the option of an extra year on his contract, keeping him at Villa Park until June 2009, was hardly a ringing endorsement. The 21-year-old, who has played 90 Premier League matches since February 2004, has found himself overshadowed by Gabriel Agbonlahor, John Carew and Ashley Young and has completed only two Premier League matches this season.
Moore was developed by the club and, at only 16, was a member of the team that won the 2002 FA Youth Cup final against an Everton team that contained Wayne Rooney. At the time, Moore was deemed to be Villa's equivalent of, or at least a modern-day, Gary Shaw. The perception remains, however, that Moore has reached a plateau. This contract extension, which has done nothing to stop talk about his future, seems to suggest that he still has much to prove at first-team level.
Unlike Agbonlahor, who is now producing football of international standard, Moore often cuts an isolated figure on the pitch. There is no doubting his ability - his hat-trick against Middlesbrough in February 2006 was proof of that - but he is no longer insulated by his status as a "local" boy. Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, is not given to blind sentiment.
If ever a Villa player was dogged by the word "potential", Luke Moore is he. Agbonlahor had the same problem in the latter stages of the David O'Leary era but, having developed physically and mentally, has flourished.
Agbonlahor has scored 16 goals in 62 Premier League matches and has all the attributes required for a place in the full England squad. Moore has scored 18 in 90 Premier League matches and never gives the impression of being other than a competent squad player.
The problem, of course, is that O'Neill wants more than mere competent squad players. The O'Leary days, when Villa languished in a coma, are long forgotten and now O'Neill is seeking to build a team that matches the club's standing.
O'Neill has already shown that he is willing to make tough decisions with players that came through the Villa youth system. Steven Davis was deemed to be a superlative midfield player with quick feet and good vision but O'Neill, who much preferred Stiliyan Petrov in that position, sold him to Fulham.
O'Neill's pursuit of Marlon Harewood, the West Ham United striker, last summer was widely seen as the first step towards the departure of Moore but it has not worked out that way. First, Harewood has struggled to make an impression. Second, Moore performed well in pre-season and was worthy of another chance to prove his ability at Premier League level.
On the evidence of the first four months of this season, Moore has not made the appropriate progress. And so, inevitably, there is speculation that O'Neill is trying to sign another striker - probably Peter Crouch from Liverpool but possibly Jermain Defoe from Tottenham Hotspur.
If O'Neill does sign either of these players, it is easy to see Moore becoming available, for a fee. Had Villa not activated a clause allowing them to take a further year's option on Moore's contract, he could have begun negotiating with new clubs from January 1 and left on a free transfer.
O'Neill will no doubt claim that Moore is part of the club's immediate future but it is hard to depart from the view that this contract extension was arranged to guarantee that Villa will gain financial compensation when the player is sold.