Teemu Pukki’s arrival at Carrow Road came completely out of the blue.
It came after a season where Norwich had struggled for goals – scoring just 49 in 46 league games – with Pukki brought in as part of the plan to rectify that. He would quickly overcome an initial lukewarm reaction with a string of fine performances, half a dozen goals and an inspired choice for his initiation song in the shape of Tenacious D’s, f**k her gently.
But it has not always been such smooth going for the Finn who, like Moritz Leitner, has had a topsy turvy journey before finding his way to Carrow Road.
In 2006, a promising youngster named Teemu Pukki made his debut for FC KooTeePee, aged 16.
While only having a handful of substitute appearances to his name as the 2006 season drew to a close, Pukki was a real prospect. This was best illustrated by the young striker winning Finland’s Young Footballer of the Year award, at the end of the Veikkausliiga season. His Finland U17 coach, Timo Keikoski, praised the youngster’s important goals, skill and talked up his potential to become a top player – potential that he began to deliver on the following season.
A regular for FC KooTeePee in the 2007 season, Pukki found the net three times and landed six assists in 24 games. He became the first player born in the 1990s to score in the Veikkausliiga when firing home an 88th minute winner against FC Viikingit.
He followed it up with a brace in his next game.
Pukki capped an impressive debut season by being selected to play in the first Veikkausliiga all stars clash in August. It featured two sides made up of some of the best players from the league, including future Norwich City loanee, Jos Hooiveld.
And it wasn’t just in Finland that Pukki was making an impression.
The new Litmanen
In January 2008, Pukki joined Sevilla for a supposed £1.3m – a record sum for a Veikkausliiga player.
Marca said that Sevilla had fended off competition from the likes of Chelsea and Juventus to sign the new Jari Litmanen, who would play for Sevilla’s youth side during his first few months in Spain as they won the Copa del Rey Juvenil de Fútbol. The following season (2008/09), Pukki made the step-up into Sevilla’s reserve side – Sevilla Atlético – in the Segunda División.
He would mark his debut with the winning goal against Real Sociedad.
Pukki would press on, scoring another two goals, before being rewarded with a place on the first-team’s bench for the trip to Real Madrid. It proved nothing more than a front-row seat as Sevilla ran out 4-3 winners, but Pukki’s first-team debut would follow just over a month later in a 2-0 home defeat to Racing Santander. In the process, he became just the second Finn – after Jari Litmanen himself at Barcelona – to play in La Liga.
The milestones kept coming for the Finn, who later made his international debut for Finland, aged 18, in a 5-1 friendly romp over Japan.
But any hopes of a breakthrough into Sevilla’s first-team were found to be short-lived.
Pukki endured a difficult second season in Seville as he struggled to force his way into the first-team picture.
Monchi, Sevilla’s Director of Football, assured Pukki was at the stage Sevilla had planned, the club were happy with his development and the way in which he’d been adapting to Spanish football. Diego Rodriguez – coach of Sevilla Atlético at the time – also talked up Pukki’s great promise and the valuable role he played for his side.
Though Rodriguez would be sacked in February 2010, with game time then hard to come by for Pukki under replacement, Ramon Tejada.
By the Summer, Pukki was getting itchy feet. Talking to Kymen Sanomissa – a Finnish newspaper – he stressed the need to be playing at his age and wanted to explore his options.
One such option would be a return to home comforts and the Veikkausliiga.
A big impression
Pukki joined HJK Helsinki – Finland’s biggest club – for the final few weeks of the 2010 season with HJK’s Sporting Director, Tuomo Saarnio, describing him as one of Finland’s most promising youngsters. Meanwhile, his new Head Coach, Antti Muurinen, praised the 20-year-old as quick, clever and determined to better himself.
Pukki scored twice in seven games as HJK won the league and finished as runners-up in the Suomen Cup, before making a real name for himself in the 2011 season.
Pukki scored 11 goals along with eight assists in the Veikkausliiga, as HJK retained their title, though it was his performances in Europe where the young striker’s contributions would prove most significant.
HJK demolished Bangor City of Wales 13-0 on aggregate as Champions League qualifying kicked off – Pukki scored twice – before being knocked out by Dinamo Zagreb. This set-up a tie against Schalke of the Bundesliga as the Finnish champions dropped into the Europa League qualifying round.
In a stunning result, Pukki scored twice, inspiring HJK to a 2-0 triumph in the home leg. Talksport spoke of the 21-year-old Finnish striker that had destroyed Schalke’s defence, BILD toasted Pukki as the “man of the day” that had sunk Schalke with two “super goals” while Pukki opted to hail his teammates for pulling off such a result.
Unfortunately, HJK were unable to complete the fairytale in the return leg – losing 6-1, though Pukki did score again and had done enough to earn himself another crack at one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
A cult hero
HJK hadn’t managed to pull off the giant killing, but Pukki had conjured up one hell of an audition, so much so, Schalke would make a move for the 21-year-old soon after.
Pukki ended up joining Schalke for £1.3m in late August – matching the sum Sevilla paid for his talents a few years earlier. Schalke General Manager, Horst Heldt, hailed his arrival, describing him as a very interesting young player with enormous potential, one that would fit Schalke’s system perfectly – as he’d proven in the two matches against HJK. At Schalke, Pukki wold have Real Madrid legend, Raul, and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for competition but it was a challenge he was relishing.
The young Finn made his debut in mid-September and was already incredibly popular with fans – after all, he already had a song.
But why had he become so popular, so fast? Pukki’s performances v Schalke for HJK were cited by Thomas Spiegel, Schalke’s Media Manager. Spiegel explained Schalke fans recognised he was a player with enormous potential coming into a young team expected to thrive in future, while his hair and the fact his name rolls off the German tongue nicely were added bonuses.
But despite his popularity with fans, Pukki would have to work harder to earn popularity with his new coach, Huub Stevens – who took charge of the first-team after Ralf Rangnick stepped down citing exhaustion just a few days following Pukki’s debut.
Breakthrough of the year
In late October, Pukki had his next first-team outing – a cameo appearance against Hoffenheim. Stevens had not been happy with his progress but noted the situation was now changing for the better, leading to Pukki making his first start against Hannover.
An opportunity he would take with both hands.
Pukki soon found the net again in an away win at Hertha Berlin, ending the year with three goals for his new side. He would begin 2012 by scoring another accolade – Breakthrough of the Year at the annual awards ceremony celebrating Finnish athletes.
His former HJK coach, Antti Muurinen, reflected on the progress Pukki had made after a frustrating spell with Sevilla. He emphasised the importance of self-confidence in football, mapping out the big difference between the Pukki that had arrived at HJK and the Pukki plying his trade in the Bundesliga – though added that there was still room for improvement.
Pukki ended his first season with Schalke with five goals to his game, coming third in a fan’s poll for Schalke’s player of the season – behind Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Raul. He also found the net for Finland for the first time in a 3-2 win over Turkey.
And with Raul leaving for Al Saad in the summer, hopes were high Pukki could push on in the 2012/13 season.
More of the same
But those hopes were dashed as Pukki endured another season appearing mostly off the bench.
Even a managerial change – with Jens Keller replacing Huub Stevens – failed to spark a change of fortunes for the Finn. Instead, speculation mounted that he could leave the club in January.
He would end up staying in Gelsenkirchen, as it happens, but Juha Reini, representing Pukki alongside Tapio Raatikainen, wrote on his blog that greater game time would have to come otherwise a summer departure could present an interesting option.
Come March, things hadn’t changed.
Pukki had one goal to his name and BILD had declared he had no future at the club. Jaakko Käyhkö, writing for SuomiFutis during the international break, echoed such a sentiment, stating Pukki needed a coach that would trust him in difficult times and Schalke was not proving to be that sort of an environment for him.
Pukki, though, had other ideas.
During this international break, Pukki was the hero with Finland, scoring the equaliser away at Spain. This sparked a mini revival of sorts with Schalke. He would score against Hoffenheim in a 3-0 win and joke to Ilta-Sanom that a couple of weeks ago he’d been a flop, now he was being talked up as a superman.
For his next trick, he would inspire Schalke to a comeback draw against Bayer Leverkusen – scoring once and grabbing an assist – in a 2-2 draw. Jens Keller praised the Finn’s impact, adding that he had shown just what a good player he is with recent goals.
But that praise didn’t translate to starts.
And without starts, it was clear that Pukki didn’t have the home he needed to flourish in.
Filling the void
He would have hoped he had found that home at Celtic, in 2013.
Neil Lennon had turned to Pukki to help fill the void left by Norwich-bound Gary Hooper. Pukki signed a four-year deal, recognising he had himself a “big opportunity”. Lennon was glowing when it came to the 23-year-old’s style of play, talking up his first touch and versatility, and while he wasn’t expecting him to match Hooper’s prolific hauls, he was certain Pukki would make Celtic a “better team”.
Pukki hit the ground running, scoring on his debut against Hearts and then marking his home debut with a goal against St Johnstone a week later.
Yet, the Finn’s fast start fizzled out.
He found himself benched and struggling to make an impact.
Come the turn of the year, with just three goals to his name, there were questions about Pukki’s future already. His international manager, Mixu Paatelainen, admitted he was surprised Pukki had been struggling to succeed. Paatelainen said, “At a top club like Celtic there is not too much time before the verdict is out. It has been a sticky start but he has all the attributes to make it happen.”
Pukki finished the season with seven goals, later admitting that he had underestimated the SPL after his time in Germany. Speaking a few years later, Neil Lennon cited Pukki’s withdrawn personality as a reason for his Celtic struggles.
Lennon explained, “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. I don’t know if it was too big for him because he had been at Sevilla and at Schalke, so he had been at big clubs. He was never prolific but we felt he had the qualities we wanted but he would maybe say he never got the chance to show that on a consistent basis.”
And he wouldn’t get any more chances to show those qualities in a Celtic shirt, as he was shipped off to Brøndby on a surprise loan move as the 2014/15 season began.
The Pukki begins to party
Handed a regular starting berth at last, Pukki began to flourish in Denmark. He ended the season as Brøndby’s top scorer with nine goals.
In March 2015, with his future up in the air, he spoke of his desire to “find a good club and be there for many years”. He wouldn’t have to look far as that club would be Brøndby, who took up their option to sign the striker on a permanent deal that summer. Sporting Director, Per Rud, tasked Pukki with raising his levels even more over the forthcoming campaign – having had continuous minutes on the pitch for the first real time since the 2011 season with HJK Helsinki – and Pukki would do just that, once more finishing the season as Brøndby’s top scorer (13 goals in all competitions).
However, it was in 2016/17 that Pukki hit wild new levels. Brøndby won the Danish Superliga with their Finnish frontman having his best ever goalscoring season. Pukki found the net 29 times in 46 games in all competitions, while also notching 10 assists.
It was during this season Pukki admitted still harboured ambitions of playing in one of Europe’s biggest leagues again one day, and his future would become a point of increasing interest over the course of the 2017/18 season.
A final flourish
Entering the final year of his deal, Pukki assured he was happy at Brøndby and couldn’t see why he wouldn’t continue – as long as his new contract offer was good.
Panathinaikos would try to snap up the Finn in the summer, but Brøndby would reject all advances. Pukki himself was happy with that, owed to a rapidly approaching personal landmark – he was set to become a father for the first time in December, something he’d describe as the best day of his life. Because of this, he was really happy to remain in a place he felt at home and felt safe.
Come January, he’d found the net seven times but his future remained up in the air. His agent, Teemu Turunen, speaking to Iltalethi, revealed there had been plenty of interest and as the months trickled on, it became apparent Pukki would leave Brøndby on a free.
Unable to agree terms, Brøndby announced on 21 May that Pukki would leave the club at the end of the season.
There was to be no unsavoury exit. It was quite the opposite, Sporting Director, Troels Bech, was glowing in his praise for Pukki, citing how he had “mastered different playing styles under different coaches” and they were certain that he would flourish in whatever his next step was.
Bech added, “It’s no secret that we have been trying to find an agreement with Teemu for a year and a half, so we could extend cooperation, but it has not been possible to find a common footing about the terms yet. We respect that, and we therefore wish Teemu and his family good luck in the future.”
Pukki ended his spell at Brøndby with 72 goals in 164 games. He had become a better, more diverse forward during his time in Denmark, leaving as a hero, matching his talent with physicality.
The only question now was, what was next?
It’s all about hard work
Pukki was hardly short of offers. According to agent, Teemu Turunen, there had been interest from every corner of the world. Turunen stressed Pukki would have to plot his next move carefully, however, especially now he was a family man.
Trabzonspor, Red Star Belgrade, Fortuna Düsseldorf, Reading and PAOK were all among the reported interest, but Pukki would eventually find his way to Norwich City.
Head Coach, Daniel Farke explained Pukki was a “good fit to our ideas” owed to him being “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.”
And Pukki would prove a good fit, indeed.
He hit the ground running, scoring goals against Preston and West Brom, before embarking on a hot streak for club and country in September. He would pick up a minor injury on international duty but having now got over it, the Finn will be keen to pick up where he left off in a season where he’s already hit nine goals for club and country.
It’s proven a frutiful start to the latest chapter for a striker entering the prime of his powers, one who has fought back from early adversity and proven just how capable he is.
The secret? According to Turunen, it’s all down to hard work.
Turunen told Kymen Sanomat that the move to Denmark coincided with Pukki changing his style of play. “He runs more,” explained Turunen. “He struggles more, he tackles more, he is in better physical condition and capable of more intense spurts. The whole starting point for the way he plays is different. The Danish league was kind of a step backward, but it had to be done. Something had to change, and Teemu realised that was the case. Now he really wants to work.”
Thanks to Cory for sharing another of his storming pieces with TalkNorwichCity. Cory’s blog, iwritethings23, can be found here to view more of his excellent work. Who would you like to see next? Comment below!