“I could be the one to change football in Jamaica,” Khadija Shaw remembers thinking as a determined teenager.
Bravely, she didn’t want to be defined by the constraints of Spanish Town, the Jamaican city she grew up in, but instead wanted to challenge the narrative typically given to young women in the region.
But there is nothing typical about Khadija, who is nicknamed “Bunny” for her love of carrots. “It was almost like a waste of time,” she said in an interview BBC after sealing a move to Manchester City in 2021. She was referring to her parents’ attitude towards football as a potential career – not only was it unrealistic, it was considered dangerous.
“My parents didn’t let me play because of the lack of opportunities,” she recalls.
Still, Bunny was going to rewrite the script, not to be deterred by various naysayers. She refused to be stereotyped. She wanted to prove that her desire to succeed could outweigh any external desire as she conformed to the normal mold of a young Jamaican woman.
“One day I was like ‘let’s make a deal – I pass the exams and you let me play,'” she boldly told her hesitant family. Fast forward to 2022 and the striker is taking the scene by storm – both domestically and internationally.
It’s not a well-trodden path, but it’s one that Shaw has forged through a combination of determination, willpower and raw talent. There is heartwarming pleasure in every trip.
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 forward Ellen White with plenty of promise. The striker thrives as the star shooter and has been involved in more goals than any other player in the Women’s Super League this season. She has scored in all but one of her six games.
Many questioned how City would cope with losing their top scorer this summer, with White opting to call time on his playing career, but fears have been eased. Shaw is the answer.
Power, speed and accuracy – she has it all. Stepping into the No. 9 role at perhaps the perfect time, Shaw looks the part, not least helped by two of the league’s deadliest wings.
Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly join Shaw to create a formidable front three. With an average age of just 23-and-a-half, this trio has the potential to wreak havoc on opposition defenses for 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 accurate crosses towards his centre-forwards, who more often than not end up in the back of the net. In fact, no team has scored more headed goals than Man City this season (five). Four of them have been posted by Shaw.
Her stunning two-goal strike against Tottenham at the end of October prompted manager Gareth Taylor to issue a warning about his striker’s form – “there’s more to come,” he said. Not what Everton want to hear ahead of this weekend’s WSL clash, live 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,” added Taylor.
It was the sense of community that initially drew Shaw to the game as a child, but now she’s happy to follow a path that could end up putting her in a league of her own. Her background is unique and so is her style of play, driven by a boundless determination that translates on the court like a hatful of goals.
Dampening Bunny’s enthusiasm is something Everton will have to deal with if they want any chance of beating a team they have never beaten in a league competition before.
Man City have won all 12 of their matches against the Toffees, the best 100 per cent record against another team in WSL history.
“I will always keep encouraging and encouraging because it is not impossible,” Shaw said mancity.com recently. In fact, the outlook for the 25-year-old is the opposite – anything is possible. She is a pioneer in her field and is about to take a break.
Not many players can claim to have played for their country at just 13 – the following year she had represented Jamaica at Under-17s and Under-20s. She is now Jamaica’s all-time leading scorer, male or female, with 56 goals in 38 games.
There are a few names that come to mind when assessing the WSL’s best current strike team. Chelsea have Sam Kerr. Arsenal have Vivianne Miedema. Yet, this year, Shaw’s inescapable presence in the box is bound to stir things up as the campaign zig-zags in unpredictable directions. You feel every time is now.
Will it be enough to propel Man City to formal honors in 2022/23, despite a shaky start? Well, triumphing in the face of adversity is exactly what Shaw does best. This season is just the latest chapter in her epic tale of defiance.
Watch Everton v Manchester City live on Sky Sports Main Event on Saturday from 2.30pm; start at 15:00.