As a talented young footballer growing up on the outskirts of Birmingham, a sweat-drenched Kemar Roofe would occasionally raise his head from the ball to survey the scene at his local park. He'd see pals having a friendly kickabout or racing around on their bikes. For him, life was already very different. Even in his formative years, football was already "business". While others were enjoying the fruits of childhood he was out with family relentlessly practising his craft and honing his skills, determined to become a professional footballer.

It's these early years of toil and effort that Roofe cites when told that many Rangers fans consider him the best striker at the club. The Jamaican international is too media savvy to get caught up in that debate as he flashes a grin and protests "no comment", but he does add some context to the period when his skills came to be refined.

"I put a lot of work in through my years down the park with my brother and my dad," he said. "We’d work on my shooting and finishing, different types. I was down there and I’d see my friends. They were playing football or with their bikes but they were having a different type of fun. I was down the park for business. Getting it in. My friends were just there watching us. 

"Naturally, you want to play with your friends rather than be working and grinding at it but I can only thank my dad, Glenn, for that.  As a father, I now know that putting in that sort of time with your kids is hard. Especially when you have a job. He did that. So for me, it all comes from him. Now that I am fully fit and getting my match fitness up I can keep showing you guys what I can do."

With Roofe, it's never been a question of talent. From the moment he arrived in Govan he's looked comfortable as a Rangers player. Intelligent, aggressive, tough on the field and capable of the truly spectacular, the problem has been getting him fit enough to show it. 

That was achieved in his first season when a 55th league title was secured and the striker was top scorer. A second season was still good despite niggling injuries, with 16 goals bagged in 36 appearances - but the third was a total washout. "Terrible" the player concedes with the jersey only being pulled on six times. 

The problem was a hip injury he had delayed getting fixed for far too long, the player's burning desire to be available ultimately proving counter-productive. Now? After surgery and a specific training programme, his body can finally do the things his brain asks it to once again.

 "I am feeling as good as I have in a long time," he said. "My body is finally working. I can do stuff that I couldn’t do before. A lot of the time I was using desire to get myself through games and through training. I would tell coaches and physios that I was fine when I was probably not. That’s just how I am, I want to play. Now I can finally wake up and think, ‘yeah, I feel good now’. 

"I needed a hip operation. I had always put it off because it was a three or four-month rehab. As a player you haven’t got that sort of time. Unless I couldn’t literally kick a ball, I wasn’t going to do it. And I thought I could get myself through many years and I did. I bet you guys never even knew I had a hip injury. That’s finally sorted. I went to Aspatar in Qatar for my rehab and got a programme that I keep following to this day. So far it’s working. 

"It had been in my head for a very long time. I had known about it for many years and every physio or doctor I spoke to said ‘ooft’ because it is a big rehab. Also, as a player you don’t want to be taking time out. I’m here to win and I can’t do that if I am out for three months. Yes, I have been out with different types of injuries but that is part of football – and it was also a secondary effect of my hip. 

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"I only played five or six times last season, we weren’t really getting anywhere and we were out of different cups. So it was time for me to do it. I had just had enough, physically and mentally, of keep pushing through it only to keep breaking down. So I just thought ‘that’s it, let me get it sorted’.  It’s a relief. I can wake up in the mornings and feel good, not have to worry about what is going to go wrong. I can do what I want to do. In my head I wanted to do things but my body couldn’t. That is sometimes the main battle I have during games. It’s not actually what is going on, it’s me versus myself.  Can I do this? Shall I do it? Let me do it?"

At 30, a fully fit, free from pain and mentally focused Roofe should be a huge asset for the years to come. His contract is up at the end of the year. Is that a motivator to show what he can do and secure his future? "For me, and it’s a cliché but the next game is always in my head. Can I win in the next game? Can I score or create? That's all I care about. If I do that the rest will take care of itself."

Roofe seems likely to feature against Celtic in what will be an important game in shaping the title race. Roofe scored a double in a 4-1 win in his first season but was denied the chance to celebrate with a delirious Ibrox due to Covid. And while he admits hitting the net in such an important game would be gratifying, he's aware of the simple big-picture message ahead of Old Firm matches; just win.

The Herald: Roofe after scoring against CelticRoofe after scoring against Celtic (Image: SNS)

"I’m ready and I’m looking forward to it," he said. "It’s a massive game, we all know this. It’s a game that everyone wants to play in and probably the main reason that players come to Scotland. Obviously, I will never forget those goals but it’s different without a crowd there.  It would mean a lot more to be able to celebrate with the fans.  But at the same time all we need to worry about is winning, getting the three points. It doesn’t matter who scores. It doesn’t matter how it goes in as long as it is legal."

If Roofe does make an impact, Michael Beale's faith will have been a significant factor but the player is in no doubt just who's responsible if he does prove to be a match-winner.
He said: "I have worked with very good managers and coaches. We’ve got one here – the gaffer is top. But these managers and coaches have not taught me what my dad did. It's as simple as that. And it’s something I will never lose.  I have to thank him for what I have achieved and what I can do."