Football Features

Teemu Pukki: The former Celtic flop Norwich hope goes one further than Phillips & Johnson

By Ollie Thomas

Published: 17:42, 20 August 2019

Teemu Pukki is literally Norwich City’s ‘GOAT’. Sort of.

The fact the literal translation of the Norwich talisman’s surname is ‘goat’ in his native tongue (Finnish) is poetic. Few expected the striker to have the same effect on the Premier League as he did on the division immediately below, but the ‘Pukki Party’ is well and truly underway at Carrow Road.

After a well-taken consolation at Anfield, Pukki had 10.5% of Fantasy Football managers gloating in WhatsApp groups up and down the country after a magnificent hat-trick guided Norwich to an emphatic 3-1 victory over Newcastle in their first home game of the season.

Such was Pukki’s impact on Gameweek two that he has gone from 100/1 to 10/1 to win the Golden Boot with some bookmakers, level with the likes of Sadio Mane and Raheem Sterling.

Even more remarkable is the fact Pukki’s goal against Liverpool meant that the striker has scored with his first shot on target in each of the last eight league seasons, according to Opta, a record stretching back to 2012.

It is a truly incredible stat for a player not too many English football fans had even heard of a year ago. One of those seasons, however, was spent just north of the border, playing under Neil Lennon at Celtic.

Life was pretty sweet. The Hoops were fresh from winning their second consecutive league title. Many fans were probably still nursing a hangover after ‘that night’ at Celtic Park against Barcelona. Glaswegian rivals Rangers had just been dumped into the fourth tier of the football league following their administration and subsequent liquidation, paving the way to another decade of complete and utter dominance of Scottish football.

Pukki had impressed at Finnish Veikkausliiga club HJK after an underwhelming spell at Sevilla, where he made a solitary appearance. He scored twice in Helsinki against Schalke in a Europa League qualifying tie before the German side rolled HJK over in Gelsenkirchen, with Pukki scoring the only goal. He impressed then-Schalke boss Ralf Rangnick so much that Schalke snapped him up on a three-year deal. However, after spending three seasons in Klass Jan-Huntelaar’s shadow, he moved to the UK in 2013.

The striker scored on his debut, as he often does, but struggled to fill the void left by Gary Hooper, who had moved to Norwich (ironically) the previous summer. He managed seven goals in 25 league appearances and was regarded as a failure by most in the city. A peculiar outcome, given his exploits in England.

Pukki provided Sky Sports with a possible explanation as to why this happened: “I was probably a bit lazy. I was not doing the defensive work I should have done. When I do defensive work well it always helps my offensive game. That’s been a big change for me.”

He even admitted after he departed that perhaps he was not ready to move to a club of Celtic’s size, describing his time in Glasgow as “different” to his similarly ill-fated Schalke stint.

He said: “It took me some time to get used to the game in Scotland because it was very different. The game is quicker and more physical. You don’t get much time on the ball, that’s for sure. It is probably better than I thought as well.

“When I first arrived maybe I thought it would be easier but Scottish football is not easy. It’s not a bad league at all, it’s a very good one.”

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Former boss Neil Lennon was fairly complimentary of Pukki, despite his underwhelming campaign spent at Celtic Park.

After Pukki moved to Denmark, he said: “He has never been the most physical of players, he was never that type. He will be a similar sort of player as what you saw at Celtic but maybe a bit more comfortable in the Scandinavian environment.

“He is a quiet boy. He had a few injury problems as well and at a club like Celtic, when you’re brought in for money, you have to score goals and he wasn’t really an out-and-out goalscorer. He played within himself a little bit, I thought. He didn’t really show his capabilities.

“Listen, he is not going to turn into Superman just because he has got a move to Brondby.”

You’re right, Neil. He was saving that for his trip to East Anglia.

There was a notable improvement in Pukki’s game as he returned to Northern Europe, travelling 883km across the Baltic Sea from Helsinki to Copenhagen. It was in the Danish capital where he seemed to discover an insatiable appetite for goals: he scored 72 in 164 appearances before a disagreement over his contract meant Brondby let him go, albeit very reluctantly.

Pukki is eager to acknowledge just how crucial that spell in Denmark was in rediscovering his goalscoring touch.

He added: “Those years in Denmark changed my game and how I played football. The last two years, in particular, were really good. I got a lot of goals and my self-confidence back after some harder times.

“The coach at Brondby changed the way I think about football, my work ethic and things like that.”

Having scouted the striker for six years, Norwich sporting director Stuart Webber believed Pukki would flourish under Daniel Farke at Norwich and quickly signed him as a Canary on July 1 2018. It’s fair to say those six years were well spent.

No player has ever topped the Championship and Premier League scoring charts in consecutive seasons. Sunderland ‘s’ promotion season in 1998/99 was blighted by injury for Kevin Phillips, yet he still managed 23 goals before smashing 30 past hapless Premier League goalkeepers and winning not only the Golden Boot, but also the European Golden Shoe. He remains the only Englishman to have won the latter.

Former Crystal Palace and Everton striker Andy Johnson nearly did it in what some may call the ‘more conventional’ way: he bagged 27 goals in the Championship before netting 21 times in the Premier League, falling four short of Thierry Henry in the race for Premier League goalscoring immortality.

Of course, it’s early days. Pukki will face much tougher tests than Newcastle’s relegation-threatened back five, but his strike against Liverpool – last season’s best defence – shows that the 29-year-old is no flat-track bully.

Pukki’s main target will be Premier League survival with Norwich, who could be on the brink of something special under Daniel Farke.

“It’s not about individual statistics and how many goals he scores,” said the German after the Newcastle win.

“It’s all about the team and for that, he is so important for us.”

He’s undoubtedly right. But Norwich’s odds of establishing themselves in the top tier of English football could be significantly influenced by how close Pukki comes to living up to his name this season.