José Mourinho has acknowledged an improvement in Kevin De Bruyne's attitude at Chelsea over recent weeks and hopes to offer the Belgium international more first-team football over the next month.
Since joining the London club almost two year ago, De Bruyne, 22, has spent time on loan at his former club Genk and with Werder Bremen, and has seen his opportunities limited this term. His international and Chelsea team-mate Eden Hazard last month advised him to leave Stamford Bridge in order to get enough match action before the World Cup finals in Brazil.
Mourinho was critical of De Bruyne's performance in a League Cup tie at Swindon Town and the player, who started two of Chelsea's first three games of the campaign, has not featured in the Premier League since a five-minute appearance as a substitute against Fulham in September.
That lack of game time had prompted De Bruyne, a key figure in Belgium's qualification campaign for the World Cup, to instruct his representatives to explore the possibility of another loan move in January. Wolfsburg, who are keen to sign him permanently, and Bayer Leverkusen have both expressed a desire to sign a player who impressed in the Bundesliga with Bremen last season, while Atlético Madrid have also declared an interest in the winger.
Yet Mourinho has said De Bruyne has a part to play at Chelsea as they pursue silverware on four fronts, with the manager encouraged by the player's response to being left out of the side.
"Kevin is showing desire and working very hard," said Mourinho. "I feel sorry for not giving him big opportunities up to now, but he's working better than ever. He's sad when he's not selected or playing, but he's working professionally which, for me, was a change from the beginning. When he works the way he is, he has to have a chance.
"He is selected [in the squad] for the Sunderland game on Wednesday, and he has a block of matches ahead and has to make a mark in them. I like him as a player. I've learned now how to like him, also, as a kid. He's a good kid and he's showing he's a good professional. Hopefully I can give him enough time on the pitch so he decides to stay in a happy way."
The player's agent is expected to speak to the club later this month to determine the best approach for the second half of the season, with De Bruyne anxious to ensure selection for Belgium's World Cup squad.
"I understand he needs to play a bit more, but he's in an area of the pitch where we have more options," added Mourinho. "I'm speaking with him and we're working a bit on that: he can also play as a midfielder when we play with an open triangle. He's done that at Werder Bremen, so hopefully we can find more options for Kevin to play, because I like the player very much.
"Any player who wants to speak with me and the club ... they deserve that respect. But the club is No1. It comes first. The players come after the club. We have to protect the club and understand that we have lots of matches to play until the end of the season, and lots of things can happen. We'll be playing four competitions at the same time if we get through to the next round of the Capital One Cup, so we'll need a big squad."