Jhamal Tucker

Tue, 15 Jun 2021

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A docile furball, usually white or brown, with a cute little button nose, pockets for cheeks, feet tucked away under layers of fluff and perpetually chewing – a bunny. Then isn’t it funny how someone who shares a name with the meek marsupial is such a fierce competitor. There are some 20+ players including her on the field whether at training or during a match. And in either case you can’t miss Khadija Shaw. She stands head and shoulders above most at an imposing 5’11. She’s fast, though she uses her speed sparingly, choosing to power away from challengers in bursts instead of lung busting sprints. And then there’s that uncompromising strength combined with unrivaled ferocity. This “Bunny” is no caged house pet feeding on leafy greens; our Bunny is a Lion and she’s going for blood in England.
I recall a Saturday evening (May 18, 2019), a typically humid dusk in Kingston that time of year. The Reggae Girlz get in their last few strides on Independence Park before their final game on home soil ahead of their historic debut at the FIFA 2019 World’s Cup. The training session had already run its course. The keepers were already good and dived out, midfielders were no longer checking over their shoulders and defenders had lost the instinct to punt anything that gets too close to their big toe. But one player isn’t quite ready to go just yet. It looked less like a drill and more like a ritual. The last session was some crossing scenarios and once that ended, the players cleared out of the box, then there was a little uncertain shifting around before a 3-woman wall lined up and the keeper got into position. Bunny placed the ball with purpose. She stepped back in a way not too dissimilar to the hammer being pulled back on a gun. And she pulled the trigger to a similarly devastating effect. The ball flew direct from her 25-yard freekick into the top right corner, rippling the roof of the net as it made its way, followed by what seemed to be her obligatory fist-pumping celebrations. I always suspected there was something special about her, and being able to watch her train up close, I see it now. She has an air of destiny about her.
The women’s game (as well as the men’s) is dominated by European or South American players. The US team may be ranked #1 in the world but their individual players, despite being household names, are not the best in the world. That distinction belongs to the likes of the Brazilian, Marta, inaugural Ballon d’Or Féminin (Women’s Ballon d’Or) winner Ada Hegerberg of Norway, Denmark’s Pernille Harder – current European Player of the year and a host of other British, French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, etc. players. Even African and Asian players rank highly in that regard. But on neither side is there anyone from the Caribbean, let alone Jamaica, that is even in the conversation. We’ve never had a Bunny before. Following a relatively tame World Cup campaign in France in 2019 – I say relatively, she did provide the assist for Jamaica’s milestone first and goal at the tournament – her potential was still clear to see. To that end she passed up a return ticket for a flight back to Jamaica and stayed in France to join an emergent Girondins de Bordeaux team that was only 4 years old at that time. In the two years that Bunny stalked up and down the Stade Sainte-Germaine she accumulated 10 goals and 5 assists in his first season and she bettered those in the season just ended. She finished the season with seven assists and more than doubled her goal tally by scoring 22 goals en route to securing the golden boot award for the 2020/21 season. She was also named to the league’s team of the season. But the time has come for Shaw to scurry off to a new destination for a new challenge to continue her upward trajectory.
And that new destination is England, where she will join Manchester City from next season onwards, there’s plenty to suggest Bunny will continue to leap from one height to the next. The Citizens have tried to establish themselves in the FA Women’s Super League to move beyond just being perennial also-rans and become as dominant as the men’s team has been in their competition. City have finished second in the league for the last four seasons, and have genuine superstars in their ranks. Players like Steph Houghton, Ellen White, Alex Greenwood, Lucy Bronze and World Cup winner Abby Dahlkemper all play for City, but even so, it’s been determined that Bunny is the missing piece for City to get over that final hurdle. She and Ellen White could form a deadly strike partnership up front to form, and that’s the hope for City because when you need extra bite, Bunny is who you call.

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