Gianfranco Zola insists Chelsea haven’t neglected Callum Hudson-Odoi despite the teenage starlet’s lack of first-team opportunities this season.
Hudson-Odoi handed in a transfer request following a $45 million offer from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich in January.
The 18-year-old, whose contract expires in 2020, was disillusioned by his treatment since Maurizio Sarri took charge as Chelsea manager in the close-season.
Since the transfer window shut on January 13, the talented forward has been restricted to just 19 minutes of action and is still awaiting his first Premier League start.
But Chelsea assistant manager 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.”
Zola believes Hudson-Odoi still has plenty of room to develop and would be helped by staying at Chelsea to learn from fellow wide-men Eden Hazard, Willian and Pedro.
“He has a bright future in this club, the whole coaching group like him,” he said.
“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.
However, Sarri’s position remains in doubt, with the Blues facing a crucial run of fixtures following a miserable run in the Premier League that included a 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City and a 4-0 humiliation at Bournemouth.
Monday’s FA Cup fifth round tie with Manchester United is followed by Thursday’s Europa League last-32 second leg with Malmo and the League Cup final against City on February 24.