The truth is, most people were mentally prepared for Kemar Roofe’s departure long before it was announced he was heading for Leeds. Nobody in their right mind expected him to last the summer at the club, it was just a question of when, where and how much, not if he was going to leave.
The reality is that Michael Appleton managed to pull off that rarest of coups in Roofe’s capture; a player whose actual ability considerably out-performed his perceived ability. He wasn’t considered good enough for West Brom, but there were more than 60 clubs above Oxford who also failed to see his potential. Lots of players fail to live up to their potential, many simply meet it, few exceed it and fewer still by the distance Roofe did.
Increasingly in the modern game, the good players are identified quickly and early, they find their level and that is broadly where they stay. People point to Jamie Vardy’s career trajectory as proof that the game is full of hidden gems, but in truth there are 4,000 other professional footballers in the UK who broadly prove that this isn’t the case. The market always wins, but if you can beat it for just a short while, then you win big; in our case it’s been worth £3 million, a promotion and a bundle of memories.
Because of this Roofe held an odd place in a much loved squad. He scored Playstation goals, 30 yard drives, direct free-kicks, he was the magician in a tight game. He transcended the club; a media darling for the period immediately after his match winning brace against Swansea. He collected armfuls of awards. He even had a branded goal celebration.
I once read about the differences in goal celebrations now and in the past. Players nowadays are aware of TV cameras and adjust their celebrations to suit, whereas in the past celebrations were more spontaneous and visceral. Roofe was a player made to feature on TV, not in lower-league backwaters with nobody watching.
Songs were sung in his name, but he never had the bond Danny Hylton enjoyed with the fans and there wasn’t the same sense of proud ownership of someone like Callum O’Dowda.
He was almost too good, like Ronaldo with Portugal, Gareth Bale with Wales or, closer to home, Dean Windass with us in the mid-90s. Not really an Oxford player, more a transient, otherworldly character, whose stay with us was brief and fortuitous.
So, almost as soon as he signed permanently, it seemed almost inevitable that he was going to leave. Leeds is a perfect destination from our perspective because you sense money is plentiful and rationality less so. Commercially, that’s just the kind of people you want to do deals with. At £3 million, Roofe’s fee would be a big risk for most clubs, but if you have more money than sense, then who cares?
Whether it’s good for Roofe is open to debate, Leeds are a fly-or-die type club, you either succeed or you’re out. You only have to look at Roofe’s performances towards the end of last season where fatigue and fitness affected him to see that he is not yet the complete package. The fact his manager will be Garry Monk is some comfort in that his onus is on developing players, but how long will Monk survive with Leeds’ owner Massimo Cellino pulling the strings?
History will ultimately judge Roofe’s contribution to Oxford, but I suspect that he’ll never join the pantheon of greats in the way Matt Elliot or John Aldridge have. In return, I guess we’ll probably get less than a chapter in his autobiography. It was more a one-night-stand than a full blown marriage made in heaven. His time with us was just too brief to cement his legend and it will be a memory of the feelings rather than the actual moments themselves which will ultimately be Roofe’s lasting legacy.