Marcelo Bielsa looked unopposed for August’s manager-of-the-month award, regardless of Tony Pulis matching him point-for-point in the Championship. There is no more than a sliver between Leeds United and Middlesbrough but the EFL’s prize went to Bielsa, in recognition of the way he has gatecrashed the league. In modest fashion he declined to be photographed with it yesterday.
At the same time, Kemar Roofe was named player of the month in a contest which Leeds alone could have provided several candidates for. August saw telling displays from Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernandez and plenty of other supporting roles but it was Roofe’s effectiveness up front which tipped the balance in his favour.
Roofe’s physique and his game have rarely seemed suited to the role of a lone centre-forward but Bielsa’s philosophy – ball on the ground, slick passing and possession played into Roofe’s feet – allowed him to thrive and manipulate their results last month. Four goals and two assists in six league games underlined his impact but Bielsa gained as much gratification from the movement and energy which helped Leeds tick.
Roofe scored 14 times last season, the highest tally in United’s squad, but it is only now, two years on from a move from Oxford United, that he has found his niche position. Leeds’ concern about the potency of their team prompted the £7m signing of Patrick Bamford from Middlesbrough before the permanent transfer deadline but Roofe’s form has denied Bamford much of a look-in.
The 25-year-old is the first United squad member to win the player-of-the-month award since Chris Wood at the start of 2017. No coach at Elland Road has won the managerial version since December 2010, when Simon Grayson’s reign was at its height, and the club have never claimed both in the same month.
Roofe credited his form and the club’s rise to the top of the Championship to the intensity of a summer in which Bielsa imposed his style mercilessly.
“It’s showing in our performances, as a team and individuals, and it’s all stemmed from our pre-season,” Roofe said. “It’s the best pre-season I’ve had so far, the hardest, and the style of play Marcelo’s given us is showing – with the ball, without the ball, our fitness and off the pitch as well. Every day he’s educating us about how to improve as people too. I’ve won this award so my game must have improved. I feel like I can express myself a bit more. I’m playing in a position where I can show what I can actually do. The team plays to my strengths and everyone else’s strengths. We’re not doing something we’re not capable of.”
The best of Roofe’s goals came in a 4-1 win at Derby County on the second weekend of the season: a glorious hanging header in the first half and a superb turn and finish to kill the game after the break.
Roofe picked out the second of those efforts as the best of them. “Everything just seemed to slow down, as if it was in slow motion,” he said. “I went with the flow, it came off and it worked.”
Leeds finished August with 14 points, an unbeaten league record and impressive statistics at both ends of the field. Roofe refused to read too much into the Championship table but admitted the international break had arrived at a frustrating time, much as it is allowing Hernandez, Gaetano Berardi and Adam Forshaw time to recover from injury.
“We know what’s going on (in the league) but we don’t take much notice of it, just because we’re concentrated on improving every day,” Roofe said. “We’d have wished for the international break not to be here but it’s a chance to rest and then work hard to get better for the games when they come.”