Neymar influence as Tyler Roberts sets challenge inspired by Leeds United's classy no 11s
TYLER ROBERTS is fully aware of the proud history associated with the Leeds United no 11 shirt.
Eddie Gray, Lee Bowyer and the much-missed Gary Speed are three of the club's greats to have donned the famous jersey.
But therein, says Roberts, lies the challenge, with the young Wales international hoping to live up to the shirt's billing and taking further inspiration from a modern day great in Neymar.
Three months have now passed since Roberts last pulled on the Leeds United no 11 shirt when coming on as a 79th-minute substitute for Patrick Bamford in the 2-0 win at home to Huddersfield Town on Saturday, March 7.
Due to the country's ongoing battle against coronavirus, United have not played since but Leeds and Roberts now finally have an exact date to aim for.
Having already set the weekend of June 20 as a provisional date for the Championship season to resume, the EFL unveiled their revised fixture schedule and first confirmed TV selections on Monday with Leeds heading to Cardiff City for a televised 12 noon kick-off on Sunday, June 21.
Nine games stand between Championship front-runners Leeds and a long-awaited return to the Premier League where the greats such as Gray, Bowyer and Speed strutted their best stuff as a Whites no 11.
Today, the shirt belongs to 21-year-old Roberts who chose to don the jersey fully aware of its past suitors with the forward challenging himself to make his own mark.
Speaking as part of Leeds United's 'Ask' series in association with Deliveroo, Roberts was asked why he chose the no 11 shirt upon his move to Leeds from West Brom and said: "Number 11 is a number which has obviously got a lot of history at Leeds which is a big thing.
"It is a challenge to fill or try and fill the shirt that has been worn by the players before and I like the number.
"I always used to watch Neymar, he used to be a number 11 so I have kind of always liked that number."
'Neymar JR' that is - as the Paris St Germain and Brazil star has written on the back of his shirts.
And for Roberts too there is an alteration to more than just the regular surname on the back of his shirt in the shape of 'T.Roberts' above the no 11.
"When I was growing up I always thought it looked cool when players had their first letter, a dot and then their last name," admitted Roberts.
"It was a bit different and I've always wanted to be different from the norm, so I had it at Oxford, I didn't have it at Shrewsbury, and then had it again at Walsall.
"When I came to Leeds, they gave me 'Roberts' and I kind of just questioned it, asked if I could have 'T. Roberts' and because I'd had it previously, it was signed off."
Forty-five Whites appearances have followed since despite Roberts fracturing his shin during training at Leeds immediately after joining from West Brom in January 2018.
A Whites debut finally presented itself six months later in August but, despite making 31 appearances, Roberts was frustrated by injury complications in his first full season at Leeds.
The Wales international then had surgery following a knee problem during the summer with Roberts having to wait until the end of September to make his first appearance in Marcelo Bielsa’s second season in charge.
Thirteen more appearances and three goals followed including a fine double after coming on as a 67th-minute substitute in the 4-0 win at Hull on February 29 which naturally led to a debate as to whether the forward should start in the following game against Huddersfield.
Asked if injuries affected him mentally and how he stayed motivated, Roberts admitted: "Injuries definitely do affect you mentally.
"You have to kind of change your mentality from getting motivated throughout the week to go and play a game on Saturday or Tuesday to getting motivated everyday just to make sure you do everything you can to get back to get back as quick as possible.
"I think I stay motivated. I have got a good support group around me so my family and my friends are good and just taking each day as it comes so making sure I do every set and every rep of what I need to do every day and then just slowly get there."
Roberts, though, looked exactly where he needed to be when bagging a double after coming on as a 67th-minute substitute in the 4-0 win at Hull which naturally led to a debate as to whether the forward should start in the following game against Huddersfield.
Roberts - who has played upfront, as a no 10 and on both flanks for Leeds - again had to settle for a place amongst the substitutes.
Once the season finally resumes, the former West Brom youngster will be itching to make up for lost time.
Reflecting on how his move to Leeds came about, Roberts explained: "I was at West Brom, I had just finished a loan spell at Walsall, and I wanted to cement a first-team place there.
"It was made obvious that it wasn't going to be that season or maybe the season after, I had kind of had enough of going out on loan and moving to different teams, so I wanted to settle and fight for a spot.
"Leeds were interested, said that I'd be part of the first-team, it's a massive club and it was pretty much a no brainer for me."
Assessing the experience of being coached by Bielsa, Roberts said: "It's been another eye opener.
"It's been a lot different to what I have ever experienced before but an amazing experience.
"He has taught me and the boys so much so it's definitely been a great experience."
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