Big Kick-Off: Kemar Roofe ready to hit new heights for Leeds United

Kemar Roofe is hoping to hit new heights in 2017-18.
Kemar Roofe is hoping to hit new heights in 2017-18.
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Last summer Kemar Roofe was Leeds United’s marquee signing. The League Two player-of-the-year award and 26 goals for Oxford United ramped his value up to £3m and advertised him as the sort of footballer Championship clubs pitch in for every year.

With hindsight, Roofe felt that his reputation left people in Leeds “expecting miracles”.

Kemar Roofe, above, has been given controlled freedom by new head coach Thomas Christiansen.

Kemar Roofe, above, has been given controlled freedom by new head coach Thomas Christiansen.

“Or if not miracles, expecting a lot more of me than they got,” he said.

Roofe’s verdict on his first season at Leeds could apply to the club’s season itself.

“It wasn’t bad but it should have been better. There were frustrating things about it.”

In his better moments there was ample evidence of Roofe’s ability to shine in the Championship: a creative touch and the vision needed to cut the opposition open. Numerous appearances on the wing, though, appeared to negate his strengths and Roofe was never quite a fixture in Garry Monk’s side. None of Monk’s midfield were.

You need time to adjust to anything in life. Some people adjust quickly, some people don’t and everyone’s different.

Kemar Roofe

There was misfortune too during the 22 games in which Roofe hunted for his first goal. He was denied a tap-in away at Wolves after Silvio ghosted in front of him and turned the ball into his own net. He struck the post with a glorious effort in the second half of United’s League Cup quarter-final against Liverpool, a pivotal moment in an engrossing tie which Liverpool won with two late goals.

“I’m an attacking player and I’d scored X-amount of goals the previous season,” Roofe said. “I’d been player of the year (in League Two) so there was a lot expected of me, which is fair enough.

“My focus was only to do the right things and get into the right areas but it seemed for a while like everything was hitting the post or going a couple of inches wide. You just tell yourself that that’s football. Sometimes it goes for you, sometimes it doesn’t.”

It went for Roofe finally four days after Leeds’ defeat at Anfield, in a 2-0 win over Aston Villa on December 3. Roofe turned a tight and even league match by beating Villa goalkeeper Pierluigi Gollini to a cross from Souleymane Doukara, heading the ball home as Gollini mistimed an attempt to punch it.

Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring Leeds' second goal against Preston NE last season. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Pablo Hernandez celebrates scoring Leeds' second goal against Preston NE last season. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

“It was a special moment,” Roofe said. “I grew up near Birmingham and I’d played against Villa a lot when I was a kid at West Brom but it wasn’t really about that (Roofe supported Arsenal in his youth). It was my first goal for Leeds and it was a long time coming, even though I felt like it definitely was coming. I suppose there was a bit of relief as well.”

This season he has the benefit of 12 months at Elland Road behind him. Roofe, now 24, felt he coped with adjustment of moving to a club of United’s size but took more time to acclimatise to a team which changed heavily after Monk’s appointment.

He finished the season with three goals and seven assists, the club’s most creative player after Pablo Hernandez.

“You need time to adjust to anything in life,” he said. “Some people adjust quickly, some people don’t and everyone’s different.

“Like at Oxford, I found the best way to settle in was to concentrate on your work, your job, and let everything else follow. I wouldn’t say I had a bad season at all. It just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be and I don’t feel like I’ve shown my full potential yet.

“Leeds are a massive club but being here is a reward at the end of the day. You’re here because someone thought you’d done well enough to deserve the chance and get noticed. I take confidence from that.

“There were ups and downs for me and in my head I tell myself I should have done better. I know the things I should have been better at. At the end of the season I took some time to reflect on it all. It’s the only way you improve.

“There’s a difference between the leagues (the Championship and League Two) but the bigger step for me was going into a group of new players because last season there were a lot of players who’d never played together before.

“When it came to quality and fitness, I felt like I already had that right back from my days at West Brom. It didn’t mean there weren’t improvements to make but I didn’t feel out of my depth. It was more about getting used to the game-plan and style of play.”

Monk’s game-plan was effective for all but two months of the year: a grim start which almost cost him his job as head coach and a debilitating finish which surrendered a play-off place and was followed by Monk’s resignation.

Roofe has warmed to his replacement, Thomas Christiansen, after being given what he called “controlled freedom” to play and attack.

“The style he’s got means there’s no feeding off scraps and second balls,” Roofe said. “That’s good for a player like me.”

The recruitment under Christiansen has been more intense than it was last summer but Roofe senses more familiarity about the core of the team. The forward admitted that he was at a loss to explain how Leeds came to throw away an eight-point cushion in the space of eight games last season but said he was confident of matching or exceeding their final tally of 75 points.

“It was a massive frustration, the way it finished,” Roofe said. “I don’t know what it was and I really can’t say the reason why it happened. It just felt like there was a barrier in our way.

“I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with nerves. None of us felt that because there hadn’t been much pressure on us. We weren’t expected to do so well. Every day we put the work in and did the right things. These things happen. It’s football.

“Given the chance again you’d expect us to finish it off and we’ll go for it again this season. We’re another year wiser and that will make a difference.

“The one thing about last season was that we all enjoyed it. I think that helps and, as a starting point, it’s what we need to do again.”

Leeds United goalkeeper, Felix Wiedwald.

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