Gianfranco Zola insists Chelsea are providing Callum Hudson-Odoi with “plenty of reasons to feel wanted”, despite the player’s lack of first-team football.
Winger Hudson-Odoi is unsettled at Stamford Bridge and handed in a transfer request last month following a £35million bid from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.
The 18-year-old, whose contract expires in 2020, has been restricted to just 19 minutes of senior action since the close of the transfer window and is still awaiting his first Premier League start.
His head may also have been turned by seeing England forward Jadon Sancho, who is around seven months older, thriving in Germany with league leaders Borussia Dortmund.
But Blues assistant boss Zola is adamant Hudson-Odoi is appreciated by the west London club, while pointing out that few players of his tender age regularly represent Europe’s top clubs.
Asked if Chelsea’ coaching staff had a sense of urgency to make the player feel valued in the aftermath of Bayern’s interest, Zola replied: “I disagree on that. He’s always on the edge of the team.
“As soon as there is an opportunity, he plays. Sometimes from the beginning. Sometimes he comes on.
“The manager is giving him plenty of reasons to feel involved and wanted. I want to stress this out: there aren’t many 18-year-olds in Europe playing as many games as he is. There might be one or two.
“He’s playing. And, on top of that, he’s a player we appreciate and we believe is growing up.
“He has a bright future in this club, the whole coaching group like him.
“Please, you need to understand that he’s surrounded by top players. You have to work hard to be better than them, and that’s what we want.
“We want him to play but also keep improving. He can still do better than he’s doing.”
Chelsea bounced back from last weekend’s 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City by securing a narrow 2-1 Europa League victory in Malmo on Thursday night.
However, Maurizio Sarri’s position as head coach remains in doubt, with the Blues facing a crucial run of fixtures.
Monday’s FA Cup tie with Manchester United is followed by Thursday’s Europa League last-32 second leg with Malmo and the February 24 Carabao Cup final with Pep Guardiola’s City.
Defender David Luiz insists there have been no dissenting voices among the Chelsea squad, despite troubling results which have seen them slip out the top-flight’s top four.
“We have had many meetings already asking if someone doesn’t believe,” Luiz
“Nobody said anything. It’s because everyone believes (in it).”
The Brazilian added: “We lost against maybe the best team in the world at the moment in Manchester City. They were better than us from the beginning to the end.
“We lost a few matches because it is part of the process. The teams that are at the top of the table now are ones with managers who have been there for more than three years.
“There is a big difference when you have already understood everything, it is much easier to play football. I think we are in the right way to still improve to become a fantastic team.”