Stretching back even way before the days of Sir Matt Busby, across 82 straight years and almost 4000 games in a row, the 20-time English champions Manchester United have incorporated at least one youth player into their first team matchday squad.
19 year-old Manchester born-and-bred Max Taylor will be one more Red Devil for whom the occasion will mean even more if he features in Utd’s Europa League fixture against FC Astana this week, as the defender continues a remarkable recovery from a devastating cancer diagnosis in September 2018.
14 months ago, teenager Taylor - then known as Max Dunne - was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to undergo debilitating chemotherapy at Christie Hospital in his home city across three months from 21 November 2018.
Taylor had discovered a cyst on his testicle which was initially thought to be benign. A week’s treatment and a scan later revealed a 13mm cancer inside. Speaking to BBC Sport, the defender revealed that he heard the shock news sitting alongside his mother and stepfather.
"It was surreal. We just looked at each other thinking: 'Has he really just said that? That it is cancer?' The specialist said the cells inside the testicle would have to be taken off. He said removing the testicle was the first thing to happen but I would also need a CT scan to check the rest of my body and I might need chemotherapy.”
Part of Manchester United since 2014, one of the first thoughts that ran through Taylor’s head was inevitably, “Will I play football again?”. Despite the subsequent removal of the testicle, the cancer had in fact spread to the abdomen and partially to his lungs. At The Christie, Taylor underwent a heavy regime, an intense period of chemotherapy across the nine weeks - one day could be up to eight hours of treatment followed by four hours of hydration.
The club prematurely released a statement in February this year to announce that Taylor had responded successfully to treatment, yet he still had to undergo an operation because a lymph node had attached itself to the main blood vessel as a result of the chemotherapy.
Max Taylor finally returned to training in September 2019, and played for the under-23s a month later.
Incredibly, just another month after that he’s now travelling with the first team.
When Taylor took a step back from Manchester United to focus on his recovery, Jose Mourinho was manager. When he returned, Ole was at the wheel. However, both of his gaffers were incredibly supportive and conscious of the teenager’s situation.
"There is a side to Manchester United that a lot of people don't see,” explained Taylor, “It is like a family. When I came back, people who are not at the forefront of the Manchester United show - the cleaning staff, the chefs - asked me how I was getting on. It meant so much.”
"Once I started training again, I just wanted to be treated the same as everyone else. I have known some of my team-mates since I was 14. They are my best friends.
It took until the first nutmeg for them to take the mickey out of me.
Funny as it sounds, that moment was really good. I am not going to neglect the fact that I had cancer, but I don't want it to be what people remember me for. I want to be a good person, a great footballer and someone who gives back."
Outspokenly committed to ‘doing things the Manchester United way’. Solskjaer is seemingly using the chance as a training exercise with Utd currently topping their Europa League group (and Astana not picking up a single point so far) and bleeding through members of the prestigious academy. Solskjaer has also dragged youth team coach and former teammate Nicky Butt along for the ride, who was there when Max signed his first professional contract with Man Utd.
The capital of Kazakhstan might be an unusual place for an English footballer to be granted first-team duty, but Max Taylor is not your usual footballer. It not only marks the culmination of the most gruelling year few professional athletes can truly imagine, but hopefully the stepping-stone start of a long and successful career for an exceptional human being.