Sheffield United: Former Blades and Gills favourite is living the American dream

Paul Shaw represented both United and Gillingham before moving to North America
Paul Shaw represented both United and Gillingham before moving to North America

Paul Shaw will be over four thousand miles away tomorrow when Sheffield United host Gillingham at Bramall Lane, writes James Shield.

But the attacking-midfielder turned talent-spotter is still eagerly awaiting the outcome of this important League One fixture between two of his former clubs.

“I find out the results of my old teams every week,” Shaw, now Orlando City’s academy director, told The Star last night. “It would be good to see Gillingham and United return to the Championship as soon as possible but, as you know, it’s not easy getting out of League One. It will be a battle every single week.”

Plenty of water has passed beneath the Lady’s Bridge since Shaw was prised away from the Priestfield Stadium by Neil Warnock in 2004.

Then United, who a season earlier had reached the play-off final and last four of both major domestic cups, were targeting top-flight football. Now, seven years after achieving that objective, their immediate priority is maintaining a place in England’s third tier.

Shaw, whose transfer to South Yorkshire came following a series of fine displays against Warnock’s side, has been on a much more enjoyable journey since making his 40th and final appearance for United at the start of the 2005/06 campaign.

Spells at Rotherham, Chesterfield and Oxford were followed by a move to Ferencvaros which, inadvertently, set in motion the chain of events that culminated in him opting to carve a career Stateside, first with FC New York before decamping to Florida 18 months ago.

“I went to Ferencvaros due to the partnership they had with Sheffield United at the time,” Shaw explained. “It turned out that I was there for three years and really enjoyed myself. It opened my eyes to another style of football and another culture.

“My family came and my boys went to school there. It was a great experience and part of the reason for coming to the US was that I’m very intrigued of other styles of football and different ways to coach. The players are different to Britain and it’s great experience.

“Working with young players on a regular basis is very rewarding.”

“I finished my playing career at FC New York, a USL club,” he continued. “I played for three months in the 2011 season before getting offered the head coach position. I enjoyed it there but at the end of the season the club folded and luckily the head coach here at Orlando is the old United manager Adrian Heath who was a team mate many moons ago at Burnley. He offered me the position that I hold now.

“I believe being here and coaching virtually everyday as I do will only improve my skills. I’m also intrigued by living in different countries.”

With Major League Soccer (MLS) chiefs poised to confirm that Orlando will be awarded a franchise in 2015, Shaw, who also assumes responsibility for his employers’ under-23 team, could soon be granted the opportunity to work on an international rather than domestic stage.

“We’re run just like every good club at home, we have a good fan base and good young players coming through,” he said. “There is no MLS club in the southeast of the States so for us to get one is great news for soccer players in the area.”

Shaw enjoys fond memories of his time with United, who slipped to 23rd in the table following their defeat at Shrewsbury Town earlier this month, despite failing to become a regular member of Warnock’s first-choice eleven. Gillingham travel north five places higher but, according to manager Peter Taylor, still in danger of making an immediate return to League Two after being promoted last term.

“I enjoyed my time immensely at both clubs,” Shaw, who scored 29 goals in 131 starts for the visitors, said. “At Gillingham we were favourites to get relegated from the Championship in the three years we were there but actually finished comfortably in mid-table. We had a great team spirit there.

“United had ambitions to make the Premiership. The support was great, the fans are passionate and loyal and although I didn’t play as many games as I’d have liked, it was always special being at Bramall Lane.”

Orlando, who finished second in the USL Professional Division last season, before beating Charlotte Eagles 7-4 in the play-off final, draw the competition’s highest average attendance (6,900) but expected that figure to rocket upon entry to the MLS. Funding has been approved for a new 20,000 all-seater stadium but, due to refurbishment works, will stage their forthcoming home fixture at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex; a nine venue centre located, bizarrely, inside the Walt Disney World resort.

“Soccer, as it’s called over here, is getting bigger all the time,” Shaw said. “It’s extremely popular among the youth and ninety-five per cent of players with good ability will play in college, then graduate and try to play professionally. It will probably never get as big as the other major sports but will keep growing and with the MLS improving every year, the sport will expand.

“The country as a whole is desperate to succeed and learn.”

*Twitter: @JamesShield1