Ole Gunnar Solskjaer called cancer survivor Max Taylor an inspiration to the entire team after naming the teenage defender as part of Manchester United’s callow squad for the mammoth trip to Kazakhstan.
Thursday’s Europa League clash with Astana is the furthest the club have ever travelled for a European tie, with the 6,000-mile round trip compounded by temperatures that are dipping below -12 degrees Celsius in Nur-Sultan.
It will be warmer inside the roofed Astana Arena, but with qualification to the round of 32 already assured, Solskjaer is using the Group L encounter as a chance to give experienced players minutes and prospects a taste of first-team football.
The Norwegian has selected 10 players for the trip that have yet to make their debut, including giving a first senior call-up 19-year-old Taylor at the end of a year that started with the defender receiving chemotherapy after being diagnosed with testicular cancer.
“It’s a fantastic story, to see him coming back,” Solskjaer said in Kazakhstan.
“I met Max very early after I got the job and to have seen his journey back to full fitness and the way he’s conducted himself… and it’s something that he’ll always have with him.
“He’s been through something that no one should have to go through, but he’s come through the other end.
“He’s an inspiration for all the players.
Solskjaer on cancer survivor Max Taylor: "It's a fantastic story… he's an inspiration for all the players. There's no fear in him when he goes out on the pitch. I hope we can see him progress in his career. It's a chance for us to give him some extra motivation" #MUFC
— Simon Peach (@SimonPeach) November 27, 2019
“You can see now when he goes out onto the pitch, there’s no fear anymore.
“He’s allowed to have had fear in his life. When you’re on the football pitch, you should enjoy yourself and I hope that we can see him progress in his career.
“It’s a chance for us to give him extra motivation as well.”
Taylor is set to start on the bench against Astana, where Solskjaer confirmed 19-year-olds Di’Shon Bernard and Dylan Levitt will join 18-year-old Ethan Laird in making their debuts.
The trio will be joined in the starting line-up by third-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant, who makes his full debut for United at the age of 36.
Luke Shaw, Axel Tuanzebe and Jesse Lingard, the other experienced players in the group, will also play in freezing Kazakhstan, where Solskjaer says the make-up of the group is logical.
“Common sense,” the United boss said.
“We have done great to qualify after four games, so it gives us an opportunity to give game time to the experienced lads who need it: Axel, Luke and Jesse.
“They’ve not really had too many games and they’re coming back from injuries.
“It’s a great chance for me to give Lee his first start for the club.
“It’s hard with the young kids to give them enough games against men, professional games.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) November 27, 2019
“We’ve got the EFL Trophy and for me this is a great chance for me to see them all together.”
This would be an unusual trip even for an inexperienced group given the six-hour time difference, travel time and climate, but Solskjaer is seeing the positives at a frantic time in the season.
“We are ready for the game, we had good travel yesterday,” he said, having left the bulk of his squad at home preparing for Sunday’s Premier League clash against Aston Villa.
“Of course, the time difference and distance of flight gives us a challenge, but we’re trying to make the best possible outcome out of this.
“So, the travel has been fantastic, we’re staying UK time, so if you see some of the players walking around tonight that’s because we’re still on UK time. We’re looking forward to the game.
“I’ve been walking around a bit in the weather that makes me feel like home.”