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Kemar Roofe: Marcelo Bielsa’s Line Leader

Kemar Roofe - Leeds United striker
Credit: Richard Sellers/PA Wire

When a forward is given the brand of ‘line leader’, the usual assumption is that they’re some kind of target man. They dominate aerially, hold the ball up well and help bring others into play. Kemar Roofe, however, is creating his own version of what a line leading striker is. His exceptional line leading skills truly come into play when Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United are out of possession.

Bielsa is renowned for his frantic pressing style, and Roofe heads it up perfectly. His energetic leading of United’s press has been an ever-present this season, and has proved to be a vital component to their success. It is a tough job for a lone striker to lead such a hard press, but Roofe has executed it magnificently.

Roofe’s aptitude for operating in such a high tempo manner could be somewhat put down to his experience as a winger, initially turning out on the left flank for Leeds when he first signed from Oxford United in 2016. The Whites paid a seven-figure sum for attacker after he had enjoyed a stellar season for the U’s, then playing in League Two.

West Brom were Roofe’s first club, where he progressed through their academy to sign a scholarship in 2009. Two years later, he had his first loan move to Icelandic side Vikingur Reykjavik, for whom he scored a single goal in three appearances. This was to be the first in a series of loan spells, with Roofe initially looking like he would fall into the turgid, talent hoarding loan cycle of a Premier League club.

A first professional contract came in 2012, before further loan spells in League One and League Two with Northampton, Cheltenham and Colchester. A spell with Oxford for the second half of the 2014/15 season, however, proved to be the turning point. Initially on a short-term loan, Oxford extended the deal to the end of the season after Roofe impressed in his first five games. He rewarded the club’s faith with six goals – including four in the last three matches of the season – and the U’s promptly stumped up the money to sign him permanently from West Brom that summer.

The following 2015/16 season would then prove to be a huge breakthrough for Roofe. He was on scintillating form as he fired Oxford to promotion from League Two. This stellar season saw him make the League Two Team of the Year as well as being awarded the title of League Two Player of the Year. This, and his 18 goals in 40 league appearances, saw interest from various clubs up the pyramid. Leeds swooped, and Roofe would begin life in the Championship in 2016/17.

As previously mentioned, Roofe initially started life on the left-wing for Leeds, then was shifted to attacking midfield in November. This could well have contributed to the fact that his first goal for the club did not come until December 2016. With the excellent form of Chris Wood in the centre forward role (he would go on to score 27 league goals that season), Roofe was unable to take up his favoured position.

When given a chance in his preferred striker role, however, Roofe was able to shine. He netted a hat trick at the start of the 2017/18 season in a League Cup game against Newport County, matching his total for the whole of the previous campaign. This came a day after the departure of Wood to Burnley, meaning Roofe was now first choice for the central striker position. He promptly proved his aptitude there in the league just a few days later, netting in a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest.

While Roofe did well in his preferred role, netting 11 goals, Leeds struggled and could only manage a disappointing final position of 17th. In came Marcelo Bielsa over summer, who gave Roofe the nod at centre forward ahead of new signing Patrick Bamford.

His energy and work rate made him perfect for the role, as well as his sharp finishing skills. He netted a brace in Leeds’s first game of the season: a 4-1 victory over Derby County. A long-term injury to Bamford meant that Roofe’s place was further solidified, and he has continued to shine throughout the season. To date, he has netted 14 league goals in 23 games. After having to initially prove himself at Leeds in a more withdrawn role, Roofe has proved his excellent predatory instincts this season. All of his goals have come inside the penalty area.

It’s been an excellent season so far for Kemar Roofe, who has helped lift Leeds to the top of the Championship. Injury has, though, hit the attacker at a vital stage of the season. Damaged knee ligaments in mid February threatened to keep Roofe out for rest of the season, but he recently hinted at a return soon with a social media post announcing his knee brace had been removed. His contributions this season have been excellent, and it will be a huge boost for Leeds if they can get their line leader back for the final run in of the Championship season.

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