After a slow start and the arrival of £9million competition, Teemu Pukki had suffered a good deal of criticism, but scoring Norwich City’s first Premier League goal of the season has reminded fans of the Finn’s sensational record at the club.
In Iwan Roberts’ column for the Eastern Daily Press, the Norwich City legend stated that “someone who’s scored 68 goals in 129 appearances for Norwich City deserves a bit more loyalty and respect from certain fans who have been far too quick to criticise and write him off.”
It’s true that Teemu Pukki more than deserves the trust of the Canaries faithful in his time at Carrow Road.
Top scorer in every season he’s had at the club; dependable goalscorer in big games; hard-working team player devoid of the selfish streak commonly present in forwards of his quality- Pukki is these things and more for Daniel Farke’s side.
But the fact is that sentimentality – as Roberts brutally, and perhaps unfairly, learned in the summer of 2004 – has no place in top-level football, and Pukki’s effectiveness aged 31 must be coldly analysed without harking back to his performances at 28 when his trademark slots into bottom corners were most abundant.
Farke has keenly insisted that the Finn remains his first choice in the present, despite the pressure being applied by £9million USA international Josh Sargent, who poached a double in his only start for the Canaries.
“We need him, he is our go-to guy, a fantastic player,” the German said of Pukki in his pre-Leicester City press conference. “We don’t have to doubt him.
“Of course, the first two games were not that easy for a striker. It is easier when you dominate games and you have great chances, instead of when you play at the Etihad and as a striker you just have to defend.”
Admittedly the circumstances around the season’s opening two weeks are relevant. Pukki’s lack of any real pre-season hindered his ability to press full-tilt in the opening games, while City’s number 22 left the Carrow Road pitch after the Foxes’ visit looking a different man to the spent force he was after what felt like hours of ponderous pressing at the Etihad two weeks ago.
Of course, being in a match with some genuine jeopardy helped. There must be little motivation for a man already ran into the ground to sprint aggressively when 3-0 down to the English champions, whereas there was a feeling during that Leicester game that Pukki was desperate to keep hold of the scoreline his goal had earned.
The Finn believes he can use that goal as a springboard, saying: “Scoring against Leicester will definitely help me in these next games. The start of the league season was really difficult for the team and myself. The last (Leicester) game was already better and I have a positive feeling.”
However, a balance must be struck and Pukki simply cannot be the best choice for every single game this season. Sargent’s aggressive running and stretching of the play has already proved valuable in the cameos he’s been afforded and while a ‘plan B’- style striker has rarely worked in City’s favour under Farke, the 21-year-old boasts the dynamism and technical quality lacking in Pukki’s previous deputy Jordan Hugill.
City’s head coach has repeatedly reminded fans of the excessive workload his main man faces as the talisman of both club and country but seems reluctant to give Pukki the rest he claims he needs.
Sargent did not join Norwich to play second fiddle. The number 24 has played for one of Germany’s biggest clubs and started regularly in the Bundesliga last term. The American’s conversation with his national team boss, during which he was told to “bet on himself”, played a big part in his decision to join the Canaries.
The good news for City fans is that in terms of morale, their head coach knows how to manage these dilemmas.
That two experienced strikers in Hugill and Jordan Rhodes loved their time playing second fiddle to Pukki speaks to Farke’s man-management skills.
On the pitch, there’s an argument that Farke still has some work to do. Pukki remains an excellent striker but an over-reliance has developed, and the burden should be eased with the signing of City’s new American striker.
Quite how Farke strikes that balance remains to be seen, but if he manages to do it successfully things are looking healthy in the Carrow Road goalscoring department.