Ajax progressed to the quarter-finals of the KNVB Cup in emphatic fashion on Thursday night with a 9-0 win over Excelsior Maassluis.
The third-division side were swept away at the Johan Cruyff Arena with Danilo helping himself to a hat-trick alongside goals from Nicolás Tagliafico, Youri Regeer, Kristian Hlynsson and Mohamed Daramy.
However, there was still plenty for Excelsior to free proud about upon their trip to Amsterdam and that was especially the case when it came to one of their second-half substitutes: Devin Plank.
Plank’s battle with cancer
According to the Daily Mail, Plank had been diagnosed with a cancerous tumour in his fibula almost a year ago and hadn’t played since October 2020 with the Ajax game marking his return.
Having gone to the hospital complaining about pains in his leg, the Excelsior forward was diagnosed with a malignant tumour and has reportedly been attending chemotherapy ever since.
Nevertheless, when Excelsior drew European giants Ajax out of the hat in the Dutch Cup, the club saw it as the perfect opportunity to welcome Plank back into the beautiful game.
Moving guard of honour for Plank
Doctors advised that the 20-year-old played a maximum of two minutes in order to not impact his recovery and he was duly introduced to the fold for a triumphant return in the 89th minute.
However, what made the moment all the more special is the fact that the Ajax and Excelsior players joined together to welcome him back onto the pitch with a guard of honour.
Footage of all 22 players lining up by the touchline in the middle of the game to mark his return to the sport that he loves dearest really does bring a tear to your eye – and you can watch it below:
What a wonderful gesture to mark something far, far bigger than football itself.
A special moment for Plank
With the Mail explaining that Plank is still in the process of battling the cancer, it truly is moving to see both his own teammates and opposition who may barely know him showing their admiration.
And it couldn’t have been any clearer what it meant to the man himself with Plank quoted as saying that it was the “best moment of his life,” in a poignant post-match interview.
Per the Mail, Plank explained just how much his return meant to him by telling ESPN: “I am very happy to have returned to the pitch, even though it was a short time.
“It was an unforgettable moment. We had already made four changes and I thought I was not going to come on. Fortunately, the coach did not forget me. I’m working every day to come back.
“I hope to have many minutes again as soon as possible.”
Plank’s emotional story truly is a reminder that life’s troubles can make football feel insignificant, but his moving return at Ajax also goes to show that the beautiful game can at least help along the way.
Get well soon, Devin.