Fri, Sep

Atletico Ottawa's Malcolm Shaw cuts the hair of his teammate Aboubakary Sacko. PHOTO BY JEAN LEVAC /Postmedia

To escape the pressures of playing professional sports, some athletes turn to golfing, the guitar or maybe even cooking.

Atlético Ottawa star striker Malcolm Shaw has gone in a different direction altogether when he’s not filling the net with soccer balls.

The club’s all-time leading scorer is at home with scissors and razors in his hands, regularly kicking back by cutting hair.

In what might have worked perfectly for a Ted Lasso episode, Shaw routinely styles the locks of Atlético teammates after practice. He has even taken to working at King of Cuts, a barbershop near the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, on his days off.

“It’s something that I can occupy my mind with,” Shaw said earlier this week, beginning work on a tidy cut for midfielder Aboubakary Sacko outside Atlético’s dressing room. “Playing professional football, sometimes that can consume you a lot. Just to be able to get away from it and just do something else, it’s something I enjoy. I make a little money on the side, nothing crazy, but it’s more for the enjoyment of doing it.”

He first took an interest in the hobby when his mother, Zenovia, was cutting his hair during elementary school. The fascination grew from there.

“I wanted to see if I could do it myself,” he said, as he snipped Sacko’s sideburns. “I started doing my edges when I was really young. In the early stages of high school, I would dabble a little bit and then I really started taking it seriously once I went to university (Roberts Wesleyan in Rochester). I would cut my friends hair. I watched a ton of videos on You Tube to learn the skills.”

Shaw, a 27-year-old Pickering native, is the lone remaining player from Atlético’s debut season in 2020 and has plenty of balls in the air as he juggles the work/life balance.

He scored his 16th goal in an Atlético uniform in last Saturday’s 2-0 win over Halifax, a game he hopes will help turn the tide after the club’s slow start to the Canadian Premier League season. Atlético has a record of two wins, four losses and two draws, sitting sixth in the eight-team CPL.

Following Friday’s road game against York, Shaw will also be taking on a new soccer challenge, playing for Trinidad and Tobago in a Sunday friendly against Guatemala in Pennsylvania. Shaw’s mother was born in Trinidad and he owns dual citizenship.

“I always had aspirations of competing internationally,” Shaw said as he carefully sliced away some of Sacko’s mustache hairs. “I spent the last two years trying to get on the radar. I got some background from (Trinidad native) Ryan Telfer, who played for Atlético in 2021.

“I’ve watched them, but I’m not totally immersed with them yet. I got some insight from (Telfer) and others who played there. International football is a privilege, playing against the best players from their respective countries is very unique. It’s definitely a big challenge.”

How long he stays with the national team is still up in the air, but Shaw could also play in the Concacaf Gold Cup qualifier June 16 against Guadeloupe.

It’s a longshot, but Trinidad and Tobago — currently ranked 104th in the FIFA rankings — has a chance to qualify for the 2026 World Cup that will be jointly held in Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Shaw isn’t getting ahead of himself, of course, but it would be a dream scenario if he ever got a shot of playing in the World Cup. Maybe even on Canadian soil, where he says he first started thinking of making a career out of the game when he was nine years old.

“I just want to continue to improve as a player and play at as high a level as I possibly can,” he said, carefully cutting a few more millimetres off the top of Sacko’s hair. “Internationally, I want to be part of the national program as long as I can.”

Shaw feels fortunate about the way soccer, and life in general, has fallen into place for him.

After his NCAA career ended, Shaw went to Sweden in 2018 and 2019 to begin his pro career, starting out in a lower level. COVID-19 entered the picture in 2020, when his plans to play in a top-tier Sweden league and then with a United Soccer League squad in Nebraska went out the window because of travel restrictions.

Shaw was then pleasantly surprised when Atlético, in its debut season in the CPL, came calling. The only games in 2020 were at a bubble tournament in Prince Edward Island and Shaw scored twice in seven games. In 2021, he netted 10 goals in 28 games and had three more in 22 games in 2022.

“Ottawa came calling and I had a two-week trial,” he said. “The rest is history. It was great, definitely, how the opportunity came along. Having nothing and getting to play at home. It’s awesome.”

As for sticking with his hair-cutting hobby, he can thank a close friend for staying cool years ago when he once accidentally came a little too close.

“Funny story,” Shaw said as Sacko raised his eyebrows slightly. “He liked a high top fade with an afro on top, so he just wanted me to cut it down a little bit. When you’re cutting hair, you use different guards to take off different amounts of hair. Crazy enough, the guard fell off and I accidentally patched his hair. That had never happened before. I didn’t know how to break the news to him.”

Fortunately, Shaw says, “we had a close enough relationship that he worked with it” and they both moved on.

Providing he stays healthy, Shaw hopes to keep playing professionally into his early to mid 30’s, but he also prides himself on being well rounded, with numerous passions that he might take up following retirement.

“Who knows if maybe I want to do a little coaching, with some barbering on the side? We’ll see what the future holds. I’m not stressed about it.”

SOURCE: Ottawa Sun