Manchester United teenage defender Max Taylor is set to make his first appearance at senior level, twelve months after undergoing chemotherapy.
Taylor has been included in the squad to face Astana on Thursday.
The young defender began chemotherapy last November, having been diagnosed with testicular cancer that had then spread to his abdomen and lungs.
Taylor told BBC Sport earlier this week: “My first thought was: ‘Will I play football again?’ But then you get to the point when you’re by yourself, you can’t sleep and all you’re thinking is: ‘This could end my life.'”
Just over a year on, though, and Taylor is not only back playing football but on the verge of making his senior debut at just 19.
He had long been expected to break into the first team, having made his debut for the reserves against Manchester City during the 2016-17 season while still turning out for the Under-18s.
Described by then-academy coach Kieran McKenna as a “tough, aggressive defender who is good in the air”, Taylor signed his first professional United contract in January 2018.
However, just five months later, he found a lump which his doctor at first thought might just be a cyst.
After further scans, though, it was revealed that Taylor had testicular cancer.
“My mum broke down straight away,” he told BBC Sport. “I was so taken aback I didn’t cry. I got out of the clinic and thought: ‘Oh my God.'”
A nine-week spell of chemotherapy took its toll on Taylor, mentally and physically, but in February it was confirmed that the treatment had been successful.
However, he still had to undergo an operation because of swollen lymph nodes.
“After the operation, I spent five nights in hospital, with an epidural pump in my back and all these wires that were slowly taken out,” he explained. “I still felt ill. I was still bald.
“I would look in the mirror and think: ‘I do not look good’. It was a good three months before I started to feel right.”
His family and friends helped him through the dark days. Taylor also felt the full support of his club.
There were words of support from former United manager Jose Mourinho, while coaches McKenna and Michael Carrick came to see him the first time he returned to Carrington.
New boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer then invited him to watch the first team train.
“It was a great way to come back, very uplifting. That was massive for me. I thought people might not remember.”
Nobody at United, though, had forgotten about Taylor, or indeed his talent.
Speaking to MUTV this week, Taylor said of his illness: “I don’t want it to define me.”
What he has gone through has changed the way he looks at the world and the way others look at him, but he remains a young footballer of enormous potential, which is precisely why he is in the squad to face Astana. He has been called up on merit.
When Taylor got his first taste of playing at Old Trafford in the Under-23s win over Sunderland last Friday, Solskjaer was sitting in the stands. He left convinced that the youngster was ready for the senior squad.
“You can see when he’s out on the pitch there’s no fear anymore,” the Norwegian told reporters on Wednesday.
And why would there be? As Solskjaer said, Taylor has “gone through something that nobody should have to go through, but he’s come out the other side. He’s an inspiration for all the players.”
As the center-half says himself, he now meets every challenge head-on. His mantra is: “Just go for it. Don’t be scared.”
Taylor told PA Sport last week that, no matter the size of the obstacle: “It’s possible to get back to where you want to go.”