‘I’m surprised you know who I am’: Kemar Roofe reveals phone call with Vincent Kompany before Anderlecht move as he opens up on life under the former Manchester City captain and the ‘genius’ of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds
- Kemar Roofe has thrived since leaving Leeds United for Anderlecht in August
- Roofe has scored five goals in 10 games and made two assists at new club
- The striker says Marcelo Bielsa has changed the way he thinks about the game
It was Halloween at the player-manager’s house and Kemar Roofe discovered it was not enough to simply turn up to the party with his children in fancy dress.
Vincent Kompany appeared wearing a mask and an orange jumpsuit and handed a superhero outfit to his centre forward.
‘Maybe Thor,’ ventured Roofe, unsure, but he did as he was told and pulled on a costume more befitting of the occasion and the heroic start to his career in Belgium.
Kemar Roofe has flourished since leaving Leeds United for Anderlecht in a £7million deal
Roofe has scored five goals in seven games as Anderlecht have recovered from a poor start
Anderlecht were unbeaten in eight games with Roofe in the side until drawing on Saturday
Without him, Kompany’s Anderlecht started the season with one win and six goals from their first eight games and supporters bristling with unrest.
With him, since his recovery from the ankle injury he picked up with Leeds in pre-season, they were unbeaten in eight until defeat at Oostende on Sunday.
He has scored five goals in seven games and the fans have reacted by reallocating the chant once reserved for back-up goalkeeper Davy Roef.
Roofe says he spurned Premier League clubs and moved to Anderlecht to ‘win things’
The former West Brom academy graduate says it’s his dream to play European football
The Roef is no longer ‘on fire’, it would appear, but the 26-year-old Englishman who signed for a very reasonable £7million in August most certainly is.
‘I came here to win things,’ said Roofe. ‘My aims have always been to win titles and cups, to qualify for European football and to play in the Europa League or the Champions League.
‘That’s one of the main reasons I came to Anderlecht rather than join one of the clubs in the Premier League who were interested in me. It can be the perfect platform for me to reach my goals. We can achieve these things. Everyone will be disappointed if we don’t.’
ROOFE 19-20 STATS
Any illusions about the standards expected will have vanished on his debut, a goalless draw at home against struggling Waasland-Beveren. The result left Anderlecht languishing on six points from the opening nine games, a tally considered nowhere near good enough for a proud club with a history of 34 Belgian titles and European success.
‘We went to clap the fans in each stand and say thank you but they didn’t want us near them,’ said Roofe. ‘I’ve seen the trophies and shirts and photographs of the great players around the place, but that was the day it hit me what a massive club this is.
‘They expect to win every game. You have to win and win in style.’
Roofe was already well-versed in the art of handling extreme demands after three years at Leeds and a season with Marcelo Bielsa. Under the Argentine, he scored 14 goals in 27 Championship starts and delivered consistently on the potential shown since his days in the academy at West Bromwich.
‘He opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about football,’ said Roofe. ‘I’m grateful for having worked with him. He came in and changed so much, but within two weeks we all realised how simple it was. It’s the sign of a genius, really. You think — why didn’t I think of that?’
Life with Bielsa isn’t easy for players. There is a wealth of tactical detail to absorb and training sessions are long and physical. But the improvement is clear and this provides its own motivation.
Roofe says Leeds United boss Marcelo Bielsa ‘opened his eyes to a new way of thinking’
Roofe says Bielsa’s training methods left Leeds players ’empty’ at the end of their sessions
‘You’re coming off the training pitch properly tired,’ said Roofe. ‘You’d be empty. You couldn’t go and do extra finishing. Before every game we’d work on about five different formations and our individual roles in each of those.
‘There were times when I was playing as a No 9 but it looked like I was playing as a central midfielder to set us up in a better way to attack when we got the ball. You might defend in one position and attack in another.
‘We’d play 11 versus 11 at least once a week and that was harder than an actual game. He’d be shouting, shouting, keep going. If he saw you walking he would be on to you, shouting. No rest. You had to be at 100 per cent.’
Bielsa wanted his players to be the fittest and bombarded them with figures to prove they were running more miles, harder and faster than their rivals.
‘People thought we’d die off but our stats showed we didn’t,’ said Roofe. ‘Our training load didn’t die off, either. If anything, he upped it through the season.
‘You’re told you’ll get fatigue and you can only do a certain amount of kilometres during the week before a game, but he blew those theories out of the water.
Under Bielsa, Roofe scored 14 goals in 27 Championship starts before leaving in August
‘His style was to play quick, attacking, aggressive, front-foot, positive football — perfect for me — and I learned the body can do so much more than you believe.’
Roofe enjoyed the best season of his career under Bielsa. He finished the campaign as top scorer at Elland Road and Jamaica made contact, aware the Walsall-born striker is eligible for them through his father.
There were positive conversations with the Jamaicans but he decided to wait until his club future was settled before he made a commitment on international football.
He was into the final year of his deal at Leeds and, although there had been initial talks about signing an extension, there was gathering interest from the Premier League and his club seemed open to the idea of cashing in.
Roofe admitted it was almost impossible to turn down Kompany when he came calling
Then, out of the blue, came the call from Anderlecht and a conversation with their newly appointed player-manager, who made a deep impression.
‘When I got the phone call from Vincent Kompany, I couldn’t say no,’ said Roofe. ‘I’ve grown up watching him in the Premier League, an iconic captain, winning titles, dominating games at centre back.
‘I couldn’t believe he even knew about me. That’s what I said, ‘I’m surprised you even know who I am’. He just chuckled and said he watches a lot of football. He knew my style, what I could do and what he wanted me to improve.
‘It wasn’t a conversation where he was just blowing my head up to sign me. He was honest. He told me what he liked and what he didn’t.
‘People might underestimate how difficult it is to be a manager, a player, a dad and a husband, and he’s a national hero, back in his hometown.
‘He’s the main reason I came here to Brussels and I’m learning a lot from him.’
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