By Joni Ahokas
“He had bad luck so many times, now the luck was on his side”
Juha Kanerva’s words describes precisely Teemu Pukki’s rise in football stardom. Highly rated Finnish sport journalist has followed Norwich main man’s career for years closely.
He remembers, how young KTP -prospect from small town Kotka was chosen as underage in youth national team as just 16-year old playing with guys, who were two to three years older than him.
Youth team was then managed by Finland’s current head coach Markku “Rive” Kanerva. It isn’t a coincidence that the pair work so well now together in the national team.
Kanerva narrates pair’s relationship: “Rive knows Pukki’s qualities. Pukki knows Rive as breeder’s personality and respects him”.
Pukki’s fairy tale started with luck.
When Norwich brought in summer 2018 their Finnish diamond by free transfer to Carrow Road, they didn’t expect to get a scorer. German manager Daniel Farke played him first in Championship as an attacking midfielder under the striker.
Pukki was given his first chance in front after the first international break. Then 28-year old striker made his mark straight away winning Norwich three points by his second-half goal against Middlesbrough.
After the Boro match Pukki was moved regularly up front at Carrow Road and a hero was born. As we know, Norwich’s talisman ended scoring 29 Championship goals. He became the top scorer of the League and helped Canaries return to Premier League as champions.
Luck hasn’t been always in Pukki’s side. Player’s career history is full of adversity.
In Pukki’s case it can be speculated, if he left abroad too soon. Or was the club selection wrong?
When moving in Spanish league club Sevilla in 2008, Pukki was a 17-year old teenager. Moving Spain was a big culture shock for a youngster, who couldn’t speak the language. Even his mother was there to take care of him, Finnish boy felt himself as an outsider.
Couple of years later Pukki found another chance in Germany, when Schalke 04 bought him from HJK. Bundesliga club was impressed, after Finnish striker had scored goals against them in Europa League qualifiers.
In Schalke Pukki faced same problems than later in Scottish club Celtic. Either of the clubs weren’t a development club for young players. They wanted strikers, who could provide results straight away.
In these years Pukki also suffered from changes in management, which affected his position negatively.
Kanerva recalls: “New manager didn’t probably know his qualities. Also he didn’t maybe feel himself comfortable with the new playing system.”
After tough years in Germany and Scotland, Pukki finally find place to start fulfil his potential. In 2014 he signed a loan deal for a year with Brondby. In Danish club many pieces fell into and year later, Brondby activated their buying clause.
Pukki was also helped with a positive changes in private life. New girlfriend helped him to fix his nutrition. Pukki found also a new agent Teemu Turunen, who he knew from home town Kotka.
At the same time former prospect realised that he has to work harder, if he wants to achieve his dream as a professional footballer.
Kanerva remembers that in Denmark hardworking evolved version of Pukki was born. He started also scoring goals and regular playing time feed his confidence.
“Pukki started showing whole different effort. His duel-percent improved significantly.”
During four years in Germany Pukki scored a total of 55 goals in League. When his contract expired, there were loads of rumours for next club.
When Norwich published the contract, many people were sceptical of Pukki’s choice spend his best years in a lower-tier club.
Even Pukki find his perfect role with luck, Norwich proved soon to be the right club.
After spreading goals for Canaries, there have been lots of speculation, if Pukki would find equal efficiency playing for a bigger club.
Kanerva doubts it. Pukki scored six Premier League goals in his first games, but on latest rounds Norwich star’s firepower has been lost.
After September’s two goals against Manchester City, Pukki has been six games straight scoreless.
Kanerva says: “He experiences now a dry season and his chances has been limited. Pukki isn’t yet on level of absolute superstars. Teemu lives with his own qualities. His not as versatile as other world class strikers. His also miserable with headers, which is a big minus for an all-around striker.”
Playing only his second season, Pukki has already become an icon in Norwich, who is well known around the town. In Finland “Pukki-party” has created remarkable phenomenon.
With Pukki succeeding, football’s popularity have risen significantly among the fresh casual audience.
Fever will increase even bigger, if Finland qualify November in Euros first time in country’s history.
Pukki’s story proves that if you want to be world-class athlete, just talent isn’t enough to reach your goal. Teemu learned from his struggles and mistakes and rose from the ashes as a newborn player.
Sub-edited by Rhys Jones
This image of Pukki by @cfcunofficial complies with the Creative Commons License.
This image of Carrow Road by Caroline Flatt complies with the Creative Commons License.