Kemar Roofe: The manager who made me into a striking force
Rangers’ new recruit says he learned a lot under Biesla at Leeds
If his performance at Ibrox on Saturday wasn’t of the headline-grabbing variety, Kemar Roofe’s understated but influential contribution to Rangers’ 4-0 victory over Dundee United provided compelling evidence of why Steven Gerrard rates him so highly.
With his intelligent movement and composure in possession, initially as a central striker and then in a deeper-lying role when injuries forced Rangers into a change of formation, Roofe was central to much of the control Gerrard’s side were able to impose on the contest.
The 27-year-old also showed predatory instincts with the smart first-time finish which gave him his second goal in five appearances for Rangers since his £4.5 million move from Anderlecht last month.
Depending on the future of Alfredo Morelos beyond the current transfer window, it remains to be seen whether Roofe is regularly deployed by Gerrard as the focal point of his attack.
While he is equally comfortable operating wider on the left or as an attacking central midfielder, Roofe himself believes he is now well suited to playing as a centre forward thanks to what he learned in his one season under Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United.
The revered and respected Argentinian coach, pictured below, whose Leeds side made a storming if ultimately losing return to the Premier League against champions Liverpool on Saturday, left a deep impression on Roofe when he scored 15 goals in 33 league games for him in the 2018-19 campaign.
“At Leeds, I thought I improved,” says Roofe. “I changed position quite a lot and then ended my time there as a No 9 under Marcelo Bielsa. That was good because I learned a lot in that position.
“The club is massive, similar to Rangers, as they have an amazing fan base and even to this day I’m still getting a lot of love from the fans which means a lot to me.
“But Bielsa changed the way I thought about the game in certain aspects. He allowed me to really learn this position, to get different ideas and just to see the game a bit differently.
“That’s the reason why I’ve made certain decisions and gone to certain places. For me, it’s all about improvement and working under these guys (Bielsa, Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht and Gerrard) will help me improve, so when I retire I can look back and say I’ve worked with these people and be happy and proud.”
Roofe admits he remains short of full match fitness but is content at how quickly he has been able to assimilate himself into his new environment in Glasgow.
“It’s been very, very easy to settle in,” he told Rangers Matchday Programme. “To be fair, it’s only been a month but it feels like I’ve been here for a season already. Everyone just made me feel welcome and we’ve had really good results which helps a lot.
“The intensity in training is a lot higher than what I’ve been used to. Unfortunately, I wasn’t training as much as I would have hoped before I transferred so I had to do some extra running to get up to speed. I’m getting closer but I’ve still got some more work to do to match the boys because they are at such a high level and that’s credit to them.
“But of course I am enjoying it. For me football is football and anywhere I play I enjoy it. As long as I put in 100 percent and do everything I can do, I’m going to enjoy it. The success Rangers have had so far this season is from the foundation which is stopping goals. That has been excellent.
“That’s allowed the attacking players to have more freedom and get into their flow and create more chances.”
Roofe opened his Rangers scoring account in the 2-0 win against Kilmarnock on 22 August, his first appearance in the starting line-up. “It was amazing,” he said. “To get your first goal for your new club is special. Every goal means a lot to me but the first one is the building block to be able to step on and improve and keep getting more goals. It gives you that extra bit of confidence as well.”
Roofe’s career path has not been straightforward. Unable to make a first -team breakthrough at West Bromwich Albion, he was loaned out to Vikingur Reykjavik, Northampton, Cheltenham, Colchester and Oxford United before making a permanent move to the latter side in 2015.
“They (the loan moves) were very important because I learned so much,” he added. “I wouldn’t say all of them were successful or that I enjoyed all of them, but I would never change anything if I was to go back because they have helped me to be what I am today.They helped me to mature and I got to experience different types of struggles and successes as well.
“The manager, Michael Appleton [pictured left], was a big influence on me to join Oxford. I worked with him at West Brom, so I was confident that he knew my ability and he would trust me.
“For me, especially as an attacker, it’s important to be trusted by a manager and to be given that confidence to be able to express yourself and not hold back. He gave me that, so I was able to show what I can do.”
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