With his new club fighting on three fronts this campaign, Oxford United’s Kemar Roofe is determined to not let anything distract his aim of winning promotion come the end of the season, not even the prospect of Premier League interest in the League Two hotshot.
The 22-year-old attacking midfielder, who left West Brom for the U’s on a permanent deal after impressing at the Kassam Stadium on loan in the final few months of last term, during the summer, is reportedly attracting interest from several top-flight and Championship clubs ahead of the forthcoming January transfer window.
But Roofe, who is United’s top goalscorer this term with 12 goals from 24 games in all competitions, has not taken the flattering speculation to heart as his sole objective this season is to gain automatic promotion to League One come May.
However, the Walsall-born ace maybe bidding for more than he bargained for as Michael Appleton’s Yellows are also just one step away from reaching the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final at Wembley Stadium and face Premier League outfit Swansea City in the third round of the FA Cup.
Ahead of the club’s busy Christmas schedule, Shoot spoke exclusively to the midfielder about his decision to join Oxford on a permanent deal, the club’s impressive season so far, his magical relationship with the U’s supporters and those January transfer rumours.
You joined Oxford on a permanent basis during the summer. How are you enjoying life with the U’s?
“Yeah, I am enjoying it a lot and hopefully you can see it on the pitch as well. I could have easily just stayed at West Brom and been comfortable. But I was at the stage where I just wanted to play games and play first-team football in the league. Getting the results at the time and scoring, you couldn’t get a better feeling. So it was a no-brainer when it came to this season when making a decision. Obviously we are getting good results and the main objective is promotion.”
You reportedly attracted interest from several Championship and League One sides following your impressive loan spell last season. So what was it about Oxford that was too good to turn down?
“Sometimes you cannot really take the risk or gamble. If you know somewhere already that you really like, you just have to go with it. Like I said; I had the loan spell here last season and I enjoyed my time, getting the results. I was playing well and scoring. They are a great set of lads as well and that was the main thing. From day one, I was made to feel welcome. And also I know the gaffer [Michael Appleton] from West Brom, so I knew that this would be one of the best places [for me] to develop and kick on.”
Oxford are currently unbeaten in the league since October and are firm contenders for the League Two title. Is finishing in the automatic promotion places the minimum aim for the Yellows?
“Yeah, exactly! From the start, we were always saying promotion. To be honest, we are not really that fussed about where we finish; first, second or third. Just as long as we get promotion! We are confident but, at the same time, we are humble. We are taking it game by game. We were kind of the underdogs from the start of the season. All the other names were mentioned to win the league or get promotion, but probably not ours, which helps us in a way. But we know our strengths and we know that we are confident of doing it.”
The club have also reached the Area Final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and the third round of the FA Cup. What has been the key factor behind Oxford’s impressive cup runs?
“It is down to our squad. Everyone that is not making the starting eleven, they could easily play in any other club’s starting eleven. Our bench is strong. The players that are not on the bench are strong as well. So the rotation is there. If someone isn’t pulling their weight, then someone else will help them out and do that. We have had a lot of games, especially in the last month anyway, so players have had to come in and do a job. Obviously, if you are not playing, it can be easy to make that excuse that I can’t play that well because I haven’t had the minutes. But no one has done that and everyone is putting in a shift. We take it game by game and don’t get carried away. Say we play a Saturday game in the league, we will analyse it and move on from it and have our eyes on the next game.”
You face Premier League opponents Swansea City in the third round of the FA Cup. Are you looking forward to testing yourselves against an English top-flight team?
“I was happy! It is probably our best draw, to get a Premier [League] team. If I was to pick anybody, it would have been Arsenal. They are my favourite team. But I am happy with Swansea. They are a footballing team as well, so you can’t really ask for much better. I know for a fact that everyone will put 110 per cent in. We will try and work harder than them and obviously it is at home as well, so that is a bit of an advantage for us. Of course everyone is going to rise to the occasion; it is not every day you play a Prem team, so everyone is excited.”
League One side Millwall stand in your way of a JPT final at Wembley Stadium. What would it mean for you to lift the trophy in your first full season with Oxford?
“Of course, it would be amazing! Not many of us have actually been to Wembley [Stadium] to play, so that would be the first time for us. Obviously it is probably the best stadium in the country. The national team obviously play there, so it is everyone’s dream to play at Wembley and hopefully if we are going there, we are going there to win and lift the trophy.”
You have already scored an impressive 12 goals in 24 games for the U’s in all competitions this term. What is your personal aim until the end of the campaign?
“Personal aim; it is promotion. That is what I want, promotion. Obviously playing in League One next year, it is another chance to prove ourselves against better opposition. [It is] just to win promotion and to win as many games as we can.”
You previously worked with U’s manager Michael Appleton briefly back at West Brom. He must have been a major influence in signing for Oxford on both occasions?
“Yes, of course. Because obviously I was at West Brom and the [transfer] window was closing and I was told that Oxford were interested in me. When I found out that Michael Appleton was the gaffer, that pushed me towards joining Oxford. Just because I knew that the training was going to be good, so I could always improve in training and that is one thing that would have happened at Oxford. You would be surprised actually if you came in for a week and watched everything. Fans might have had an opinion of him when he first came in, but he is good. He will tell you when you are doing something wrong and he will give you praise when you are doing something right. He doesn’t let players get carried away.”
It seems the club are reaping the benefits from you playing under a manager that trusts and believes in your ability on the pitch…
“Yeah it makes my time [at the club] and playing football easier because I know I have got someone who has got 100 per cent trust in me and asks me just to play my game. So that always gets the best out of me. It gives me confidence as well. And, like I said, I know I will get better playing under him, so it is a good thing.”
Your exploits have not gone unnoticed, with transfer speculation linking you with moves to the Premier League and the Championship. How have you reacted to the recent rumours?
“I don’t take it seriously. It doesn’t mean anything unless I am doing something on Saturday. So that is all that matters, playing well on the Saturday and getting the three points. That is the only thing that matters.”
How have you kept yourself grounded amidst the reported Premier League interest?
“To just be humbled. I think I am like that anyway from my background. Just don’t get carried away because it doesn’t mean anything. I am an Oxford player. If I am not performing on Saturday, then it really doesn’t mean anything.”
With the January transfer window fast approaching can you convince fans you will be staying at the Kassam Stadium until the end of the season?
“Yes. I am contracted for three years and like I said; all that matters is promotion. If we don’t get promotion, I will be sad. Everyone’s target is promotion this season.”
That will be music to the fans’ ears. We know you have a great relationship with the supporters so can you sum that up for us?
“It is crazy! It was inspiring towards the end of last season and this season it has probably got even more crazier. It is hard for me to explain because I am not used to it. But it means a lot to me. It gives me confidence. Anyone that is praising somebody will naturally give them confidence. So having thousands of people doing that at one time, it is a lot. The more they do it, the more they will get out of me and the more confident I will get. I just enjoy it. I am a confidence player anyway, so the more confidence I can get and get given, the better I play.”