An ode to Teemu Pukki – at home again in the Championship. It’s no SPL, but…

·8-min read
Teemu Pukki in action for Norwich. Credit: PA Images
Teemu Pukki in action for Norwich. Credit: PA Images

Johnny Nic *really* loves Teemu Pukki. Perhaps not as much as he loves the SPL, mind, but here’s What’s So Good About the Norwich star…

 

Who’s this then?
Teemu Eino Antero Pukki is a 5ft 11in, 32-year-old Finnish striker, now in his fifth season at Norwich City and once again is pushing them towards the top of the table, vying for a third promotion in five seasons, after two relegations. Pukki has, perhaps unusually, been axiomatic to both their successes and their failures.

Born in Kotka, a major port in Finland, his career got started in his home town with Kotkan Työväen Palloilijat, better known at KTP, playing across two seasons and scoring three times in 29 games.

Then came an unusual and unexpected move to La Liga with Sevilla in 2008. But he only played one game for the club, was booted into the reserves, Sevilla Atlético, in the second tier for 17 games. He scored three times but since there was unlikely to be any first team football, he returned to Finland to play for HJK for a season and a half.

Here he began to find his shooting boots, knocking in 17 in 30 games, 11 in 18 league games and five in six European games.

Inevitably this led to bigger clubs getting up onto their hind legs and sniffing the Pukki air. Schalke had been beaten by two Pukki goals in Finland but had whupped HJK 6-1 in the return leg of a European tie but Pukki had scored the one and they liked the look of the man who had netted three times against them.

In August 2011 he signed a three-year contract with Die Königsblauen. However, although he appeared 47 times across two and a bit seasons, he only had eight goals to his name. In what would become a recurring theme, the step up to the Bundesliga was a step too far.

So he moved to Scotland, signing a four-year deal with Celtic, mistakenly thinking it would be an easier league to play in than Germany. He’s not the first to make that mistake and he won’t be the last, but in fact, it was too fast and too physical for him, something he later admitted. “He had the qualities we wanted but he would maybe say he never got the chance to show that on a consistent basis,” said boss Neil Lennon at the time.

So despite scoring on his debut both home and away, he lasted just one full season at Parkhead and was loaned to Brondby in August 2014. Hitting the ground running he was voted Superliga Player of the Month for October. Across four seasons he played 164 games for the Danish club and scored 72 times, winning the Danish Cup in 2018. His best year was 2016-17 when he bagged 29 in 46 games.

He couldn’t agree a new contract in 2018 so Norwich City swooped, if Canaries can swoop. Now 28, and a full international since 2009, at Carrow Road he just clicked right away. The Championship seemed to be his level and he set about winning the league with 30 goals in 46 games, 29 in the league. Everything had finally come up Teemu-shaped.

He was such a lethal striker that year, his best of his career to date, that there was considerable anticipation to see if he could do it in the Premier League.

He couldn’t. Norwich went down and Pukki had 11 goals to his name. Still, they set about the next season with gusto and their top striker netted 26 goals to win them the league once more. Up again they went and again our man scored 11 goals in the top flight and Norwich came right back down again.

As the football hurdy-gurdy turns, Norwich, after a slow start, are on a six game winning run, are second in the Championship, a point off leaders Sheffield United and Pukki bagged two in midweek. Meet the new Championship season, same as the old Championship season.

 

What’s So Good About… Patrick Bamford | Ruud van Nistelrooy | Jamie Vardy

 

Why the love?
There is something cool about being a great second-tier striker. At that level you are still very much in touch with the fans, you’re not so financially aloof, not so high-profile nationally. Unless you’re a Norwich City fan you probably don’t really know what Teemu even looks like. He could walk right past us in the street and we’d never know he was the most capped player in the club’s history, nor that he is currently their fourth-highest ever goalscorer.

For fans of what we might call old school strikers, Pukki has that side to his game. When I wrote about him in 2019, I said  “He’s not the uber groomed fashion model or lithe panther of a man that so many are these days. It’s easy to imagine him playing in the mid-90s, somehow. He just doesn’t look like the modern player who tends to have the physique of a middle distance runner. Pukki looks more regular, more weathered. At just under six foot, he doesn’t score headers, it’s all on the deck for him. He has become a tremendous finisher, converting a high percentage of his strikes on goal. His game is based on hard work, having just enough pace to pounce onto through balls, and above all, quick, fast, efficient, often one-touch shooting.”

And I think I got him just right there. He’s the sort of player who comes off the pitch smelling of sweat, not of Calvin Klein’s latest scent ‘Nipple’. That said, he’s never been a battering ram or anything near it. Daniel Farke liked him because he was such an intelligent player, saying, “a technical player with really smart movements. We were speaking about how we need to make more runs in-behind and runs from deep and he’s a player who has the smart movements.”

He’s a hero for Norwich fans, despite those two seasons in the top flight that didn’t go so well. Partly this is because of all the goals, but it is also because when he arrived he was a complete unknown to most of them. And how many players come to our clubs, you’ve never heard of them, they turn out to be crap and get farmed out after a few games? Plenty. Teemu on the other hand turned out to be fantastic and there is much joy in getting a relatively unknown player who turns in the best years of his career for you.

As for his style of play, when on his best form, like so many excellent strikers, he hits it early and hard. He often only takes one touch, two maximum and he aims for the corners. In fact, I was convinced he’d do well in the top flight for those reasons, but it was not to be. Perhaps he wasn’t quick enough over the ground, or in speed of thought, for that level. Or maybe he just got imposter syndrome.

 

Teemu Pukki celebrates his goal Credit: PA Images
Teemu Pukki celebrates his goal Credit: PA Images

 

Three great moments
A lovely wee doco about his early days…


A hat-trick against Newcastle in those halcyon days when they were just owned by a fat greedy man, not carpet bombers…

 

A classic poachers goal against Spain…

Future days?
He’s now 32, the Canaries are his eighth club and he’s in the last year of his £25k-a-week contract. He qualifies as one of football’s journeymen and it seems pretty certain that this will be his last year in East Anglia if they get promoted again, because everyone knows he can’t do it at the top level. However, if they fail, they may give him a contract extension if his tally is 20+ this season.

There is nothing wrong being a journeyman, and at Norwich he finally found somewhere that he was comfortable and could really contribute. That he couldn’t do it in the Premier League to the same level is no disgrace at all. Being a top second tier striker is more than almost anyone ever achieves at football. Perhaps he will regret not arriving in England sooner. The Championship is obviously easier to play in than the Scottish Premiership or the Bundesliga. If Pukki is anything to go by, it is of a similar quality to the Danish top flight. Had he played a few more seasons, he would’ve added to his already impressive tally of 80 league goals in 165 games for Norwich.

He is still an important player for his country having scored 36 in 106 internationals. On October 12 2021, he scored twice in a 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Kazakhstan to overtake Jari Litmanen as the Finnish national team’s all-time top goalscorer. When he retires, he will be remembered as one of Finland’s best ever strikers. A record breaker for club and country. Nay bad, Teemu, nay bad at all.

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