Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw ready to play inspirational role at Manchester City

Jamaica’s record goalscorer Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw describes herself as a “simple but very unpredictable player” when asked what fans should expect from her after her move to Manchester City.

“I could do something today and then tomorrow I do something different,” she says. “But I try to make the game as simple as possible, because if you try to complicate things then the game becomes more complicated.”

The stripping back of the game to its core seems to have worked: the 24-year-old has 42 goals from 30 games for Jamaica and inspired the Reggae Girlz to a first major tournament when they qualified for the World Cup in France in 2019.

After finishing as the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year at the University of Tennessee, where she scored 27 goals in 35 games across two seasons, Shaw signed for Bordeaux on the eve of the World Cup. In two seasons in France she got 31 goals in 33 appearances.

Her journey, however, has been less straightforward. As Shaw flourished in the US, at home in Spanish Town on the outskirts of Kingston she would lose three of her brothers to gang-related violence and another in a car crash, making her rise all the more remarkable, and she would be named the Guardian Footballer of the Year in 2018.

“It’s been a long and tough journey,” she says. “But I always tried to focus on my goals instead of the obstacles: growing up having that mindset to just want to achieve something and not just think about what it’s going to take to get there but to just want to arrive at that stage and be proud of myself. It was very difficult for my family as well. But, like I said, it’s just a mindset and if you have the right mindset, you can achieve anything.”

Representing her country in one of the world’s best leagues next season is a challenge she relishes. “It’s definitely huge and it’s inspiring for younger girls that dream of being in the position that I am or better,” she says. “Since I’ve signed for Manchester City a lot of people have arrived at my house asking me questions and stuff like that so it’s just another thing to think about, another thing motivating me.

“Yes, I’m in technically the best league in the world, but at the same time I’m not only playing for myself, I’m playing for my family and the younger kids and young people in the Caribbean. Not just Jamaica. When one country does well the other countries congratulate and are inspired by what the other country is doing or that other person, so to me going to Manchester City is a motivation for the little ones that probably didn’t see a way out that can say: ‘Oh, if Bunny is there that means I can do the same.’”

Someone at City plays a similarly inspiring role. “Raheem Sterling,” she says affectionately, “He’s Jamaican, and we try to support fellow Jamaicans, so when he left Liverpool and went to Manchester, that’s when I started following City and then I started following the women’s team. It’s very exciting, the team, there’s a lot of great players, and for me it’s about coming in and learning as much as I can from them and hopefully they can help me and I can help them just the same.”

Sterling’s Instagram video to welcome Shaw to the club was special then: “Come and do the damage over here,” he finished in a thick accent.

In moving to England Shaw joins an elite pack of forwards and she is looking forward to going toe to toe with players such as Chelsea’s Sam Kerr and Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, and to playing alongside Ellen White.

“I’m very excited, I want to be in that environment,” she says. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I want to be tested and I want to compete and I think also they could help me … I could help them. Playing against other players from other teams is just another step, another test for you as a player. I was in France and I won the Golden Boot; transferring to England is just another step. To be competing and playing against some of the best strikers in the world is an amazing feeling.”