Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers says Raheem Sterling will have had "an outstanding season" even if he does not play another game.
Sterling has not started a match since the FA Cup defeat to Oldham on January 27, with Rodgers saying that he is trying to take the winger "out of the spotlight" for a while to give him a break.
The Reds boss accepts that the England international is not performing at the level he was earlier in the campaign but believes this has been a breakthrough year for Sterling, who only turned 18 in December but has still made 35 appearances for the club over the past seven months.
"What I know with the kid is he has had a brilliant season. I think if anyone is looking at his performance level having dipped, that is only a natural development in terms of what was going to happen to a boy so young," Rodgers said. "If he never kicks a ball for the rest of the season, he has had an outstanding season."
Rodgers believes Sterling's achievements are unrivalled by a player that young anywhere in the world's major leagues and feels he has shown why he could be a Liverpool player for a long time to come.
"I don't know of another 17-year-old in European football who has had the impact he has had in one of the five biggest leagues in the world," he said. "He has got huge talent. This is a real, real difficult, tough league for an experienced player and even the experienced players will sometimes drop off in their performance level because it is natural, so it is no surprise that it happens to a young kid of 17, now 18.
"I just have to make sure I protect him. What he has done this season has been incredible. He is getting to a period where he will need a wee rest, mentally as much as physically and that is what we will look to do, to take him out of the spotlight a little bit.
"We hope he will be here for many years. He showed in the first six months that he has got the quality and the intensity and that fighting spirit to be here. So it is just a case of trying to nurture that."