Don’t be fooled by his receding hairline.
The hair on his head is fleeting but his career is just beginning to take off. At 29 years old, Teemu Pukki is not a player you would typically expect to be making headlines. After failing to impress for most of his career with forgettable spells in Spain, Germany and even Scotland, Pukki’s career was revived by Championship side Norwich City. In recent times, however, the Scandinavian striker has developed a deadly eye for goal and is currently one of the top scorers in the Premier League with six goals in five games.
Pukki’s journey is a peculiar one as he appeared out of nowhere. He started out his career in his native Finland with his boyhood club, Kotkan Työväen Palloilijat (KTP) where he made his debut at 16. He stayed at the club for two more seasons before finally securing a move to Spanish side, Sevilla. Unfortunately, he played on one measly senior game at the club and was dumped into the reserve squad for the majority of his stay. As a young lad in a foreign land, he felt out of place and opted to return home after two unsuccessful years in Spain.
At 20 years old, he signed for HJK Helsinki where he found his feet again. Pukki won the Finnish Premier League in his first season and came in second in the Finnish cup. His second season was even more impressive as he scored 11 and assisted eight in 18 games, the Finn’s personal best at that point of time. He even scored three goals against Schalke in the Europa League qualifiers which convinced the Germans to sign him. But things did not go according to plan as Pukki was his same disappointing self as he was at Sevilla and decided to depart the club after scoring eight goals in 37 appearances over two seasons.
Surprisingly, Celtic were eager to sign him after that disappointing spell and they got him on a four-year contract. He impressed by scoring on his debut but was subsequently unable to consistently replicate that form. This was because Pukki found it hard to acclimatize to the physicality and pace of the league, something he never expected of Scotland. He was 24-years-old and already felt like his career was over and again, he left another club as a failure. Then came Brøndby.
He was loaned out to the Danish outfit where he made an instant impact being named the league’s player of the month in just his second month at the club. As the seasons went by, he started scoring more and more – from 10 in his first season to 13 in his second followed by 29 in his third. His fourth and final season at Brøndby saw him score 19 goals but his best was yet to come. After failing to agree to terms on a new contract with the club, he left to join Norwich City on a free transfer in what happened to be the best piece of transfer business of last season.
Norwich had just come off the previous season finishing in 14th position and their manager, Daniel Farke, was looking for new reinforcements to improve on his team’s mediocre performance for the next season. According to their Sporting Director, Stuart Webber, Pukki was the man to help them do exactly that. Given the Finn’s scoring record at Brøndby, he had the potential to bring some goals to Carrow Road and his services were free of charge. So, to Norwich, signing the 28-year-old seemed like a small risk to take even if it didn’t pay off. But thankfully, it did.
He kicked off his English career by scoring on his debut against West Brom and he never stopped for the rest of the season. Game after game and goal after goal, Pukki became the club’s top scorer in his debut season with 30 goals, bettering to his best season at Brøndby. Farke’s side won the championship that season and gained promotion with the help of their new talisman – all for the price of nothing. Norwich must’ve been happy that their transfer business worked out well, but the happiest man would’ve had to be Pukki himself.
After so many failures in his career, he finally found success at a club where his talent was appreciated. He worked tirelessly, never gave up and was eventually rewarded for his perseverance. Even now in the Premier League, he managed to emulate his success by being August’s player of the month. But it’s not just his attitude that made him such a lethal goal scorer. He has the footballing ability to show for it.
His style of play is nothing special – he gets the ball and finishes his chances. Pukki is not a physical target man. So, he doesn’t use his body much and rarely wins his aerial duels. He’s also no Eden Hazard when he dribbles the ball and at 29, moves less quickly than he did in his younger days. But if he doesn’t have all these traits, why is he so good? The answer lies in his efficiency.
Great tactical awareness and experience in getting in behind the defensive line is a key factor in his scoring of goals. Pukki’s movement either creates space for him or space for his teammates. A perfect example would be his goal against Liverpool. He cleverly got himself behind Joe Gomez so that he wouldn’t be able to see him. He then ran in behind the blindsided Gomez, collected the ball and slotted it expertly past Adrian.
Another skill he has is his excellent body positioning. Even with his back is facing the goal, he can quickly re-adjust his body to put himself in a shooting position in a matter of seconds and doesn’t take more touches than he needs to. These, coupled with his outstanding shooting ability (recall his emphatic volley against Newcastle a few weeks back), make him a clinical finisher. These are fundamental football skills but if you are able to do them well as Pukki does, it makes all the difference.
We all love a heart-warming tale where the protagonist rises from his past failures to become the hero of his people. Similarly, Pukki has overcome his demons to become Norwich’s best and most important player. Time will tell what will become of Norwich’s top scorer this season. His next step would be to prove that he’s not just a one-season wonder and attain a similar goal tally as last season. It’s easy for players to disappear after one good season but seeing how fantastically he started off the season, it looks like the Finnish-finisher is far from finished.
The journeyman has finally found his home at Carrow Road.Leave a comment