Kemar Roofe will soon discover how suited he is to Championship football but pre-season left no doubt about his ability to rub shoulders with Leeds United’s squad.
The forward was already catching the eye before his strike in Saturday’s game against Atalanta rounded off United’s summer with a friendly win at Elland Road. Roofe came to Leeds with a reputation for scoring goals and creating them, and for the past few weeks he has done what his transfer said on the tin.
His 26 goals and 11 assists opened the door to all manner of achievements at Oxford United last season, earning the club automatic promotion from League Two and winning him the division’s player-of-the-year award. Leeds paid close to £3m to sign him on the strength of those performances, trusting that he could replicate that form in the Championship.
Roofe is honest enough to admit that England’s second division will seriously challenge him by throwing him against better players and better defences. “But at the same time I’ll be playing with better players too,” he said. “I’m going to have better players around me so that’ll help.
“When you move up a level I think you automatically try to raise your game and up your standard. I’ll work as hard as I did at Oxford, as hard as I can, and I’ll go into the season with plenty of belief. I don’t want to sound arrogant or cocky but I believe in myself and I love scoring goals. I think I’ll be all right.”
Roofe said his success in settling quickly at Leeds had been helped by the timing of his arrival. Leeds agreed terms with Oxford at the end of their first week of pre-season training and Roofe flew out to the club’s training camp in Ireland in time to play in their opening friendly at Shelbourne.
“That was key for me,” Roofe said. “Pre-season’s vital, everyone knows that, and if you miss it or if you do pre-season somewhere else then it’s not the best. If you’re at a new team you want to be working with your new team. I was really happy to get things done early doors and a lot of that was down to Oxford, the way they acted.
“I’ve got a lot to thank them for and they’ve been amazing – not just in letting me take this chance but in the things they did for me while I was there.
“I’d read the rumours about Leeds and I’d seen speculation about them being interested in me but I only found out that it was serious when Oxford told me a deal was agreed. Up to that point I was an Oxford player and properly committed to them. But I couldn’t wait to take this chance. Everything here is immense.”
It did not take long for Roofe’s creative touch to show itself in United’s friendlies. He won a penalty and hit a post in a 3-0 win over Shamrock Rovers, laid on Alex Mowatt’s goal in a 2-1 defeat at Peterborough United and scored the winner from close range against Atalanta on Saturday.
Head coach Garry Monk is likely to use him as a left-sided forward in a 4-2-3-1 formation, part of the three-man line behind Chris Wood.
Roofe’s comment about “better players” ghas been backed up by United’s bid to sign Pablo Hernandez, the former Valencia and Swansea City winger who Monk intends to employ as a number 10. While Monk wants for defensive cover, he has numerous attacking options to play with.
Roofe looks likely to make the starting line-up for Sunday’s Championship game at Queens Park Rangers and said he had no fixed ideas about his best position.
“I always tell everyone – as long as I’m close to the goal then I can play my game and create chances,” he said.
“I feel like I can play in every attacking position and I wouldn’t nail myself down to one. When I went to Oxford I felt confident that I’d score goals and it worked out that way. I would have settled for 26. I’ve come here with the same attitude and with plenty of hard work I think I can make a difference.”
Roofe took a risk of sorts when he joined Oxford last summer, leaving West Bromwich Albion and dropping from the Premier League to League Two. West Brom thought enough of him to insist on a big sell-on clause as part of the transfer – something which paid off when he moved to Leeds last month – but he failed to make a first-team appearance at The Hawthorns. Regular football at Oxford was enough of a temptation for him.
“It probably looked like a big decision or a difficult move but in my head I knew what I was going to,” he said. “I knew what Oxford were like, I knew what they were planning and I could see myself having a really good season there. I was silently confident that we’d have a go at promotion, that I’d play regularly and score goals.
“There were individual accolades for me and it (the League Two player of the year award) was a big honour on a personal level but promotion meant so much more because that was the main target for the club.
“That was the thing we all wanted most and, yes, individual accolades are nice but the main thing I wanted to be able to say was that I had a promotion behind me.
“I’m really grateful for everything that happened there but coming to Leeds has been mind-blowing. Everything’s just massive, especially the history here. I hope we can get promoted this season and start our own legacy.”