“I could be the one to change football in Jamaica,” Khadija Shaw remembers thinking as a determined youngster.
Bravely, she did not want to be defined by the constraints of Spanish Town, the Jamaican city she grew up in, rather preferring to challenge the narrative typically afforded to young women of the region.
But there is nothing typical about Khadija, nicknamed ‘Bunny’ for her love of carrots. “It was almost like a waste of time,” she said in an interview to the BBC after sealing a move to Manchester City in 2021. She was referring to her parents’ attitude towards football as a potential profession – not only was it unrealistic, it was viewed as dangerous.
“My parents didn’t allow me to play because of the lack of opportunities,” she recalled.
Yet Bunny, undeterred by various naysayers, was set on rewriting the script. She refused to be boxed into a stereotype. She wanted to prove that her desire to succeed could outweigh any external longing for her to conform to the regular mould of a young Jamaican female.
“One day I was like ‘let’s strike a deal – I pass my exams and you allow me to play,’” she said boldly to her hesitant family. Fast forward to 2022 and the forward is taking the scene by storm – both domestically and internationally.
It’s not a well-trodden pathway, but it’s one that Shaw has forged with a combination of resolve, willpower and raw talent. There is a heartwarming sense of gratification about her journey.
Every time Shaw gets to represent the sky blue of Man City – one of the “best clubs in the world,” she believes – she plays with a point to prove. No opportunity is wasted, certainly not this season.
Shaw has stepped into the role vacated by outgoing striker Ellen White with plenty of promise. Thriving as the star markswoman, the striker has been involved in more goals than any other player in the Women’s Super League this term. She’s scored in all but one of her six appearances.
Many questioned how City would cope when losing their all-time leading scorer over the summer, with White opting to call time on her playing career, but fears have been quickly assuaged. Shaw is the answer.
Power, pace, and precision – she has it all. Stepping into the No.9 role at perhaps the perfect time, Shaw looks every bit the part, helped in no small measure by two of the league’s deadliest wingers.
Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly combine with Shaw to create a fearsome front three. With an average age of just 23-and-a-half, this trio have the potential to wreak havoc on opposition defences for many years to come.
Hemp has created more chances from open play than any other player in the WSL this season (16), while Kelly is equally adept at floating pinpoint crosses towards her central striker, which more often than not, end up in the back of the net. Indeed, no side has scored more headed goals than Man City this season (five). Four of those have been netted by Shaw.
Her impressive two-goal haul against Tottenham in late October prompted manager Gareth Taylor to issue a warning about his striker’s prolificacy – “there’s more to come,” he said. Not what Everton will want to hear ahead of this weekend’s WSL encounter, live on Sky Sports.
She has taken on the responsibility of wearing the number nine for this club.
“She had a good season last year, but people overlook that… She has taken on the responsibility of wearing the number nine for this club,” Taylor added.
It was the sense of community that initially drew Shaw to the game in her youth, yet now she’s happy to tread a pathway which may well end up putting her in a league of her own. Her background is unique and so is her playing style, driven by boundless determination that translates on the pitch as a hatful of goals.
Curbing Bunny’s enthusiasm is something Everton are going to have to confront head on if they want any chance of triumphing over a side whom they’ve never beaten in league competition before.
Man City have won all 12 of their meetings against the Toffees, the best 100 per cent record one team has against another in WSL history.
“I will always keep encouraging and inspiring because it is not impossible,” Shaw told mancity.com recently. Indeed, the outlook for the 25-year-old is quite the opposite – everything is possible. She is a trailblazer in her field and one that is going to take some stopping.
Not many players can claim to have played for their country at the tender age of 13 – by the following year, she had represented Jamaica’s Under-17s and Under-20s. Now, she is Jamaica’s all-time leading goalscorer, male or female, with 56 goals in 38 appearances.
There are a few names that spring to mind when evaluating the WSL’s best current strike force. Chelsea has Sam Kerr. Arsenal has Vivianne Miedema. Yet, this year, the inevitability of Shaw’s presence in the box is bound to stir things up as the campaign zig-zags in unpredictable directions. You sense her time is now.
Will it be enough to power Man City to formal honours during 2022/23, despite a shaky start? Well, triumphing in the face of adversity is exactly what Shaw does best. This season is merely the latest chapter in her epic tale of defiance.
Watch Everton vs Manchester City live on Sky Sports Main Event on Saturday from 2.30pm; kick-off 3pm.