By today’s standards, Teemu Pukki’s arrival in Norfolk was given the lightest of light touches by the club’s social media team. Like the man himself, it was understated and modest.
In 2023, even something as nondescript as an Isaac Hayden arriving on loan is met with a series of teasers building up to a massive, pyro-laden Hollywood-style crescendo. Close-ups, moody lighting, sullen looks to camera, badge-pointing etc.
But, intentional or otherwise, Pukki’s soft launch served to mute our expectations of someone who was, after all, a full international.
We hoped, of course, that he would be the answer to our prayers but were told in no uncertain terms – mainly by Celtic fans – that he would be anything but. And I guess, to a degree, we believed them.
Humble beginnings indeed.
While he has, to us, become the ultimate number 9 (albeit clad in a 22), let’s not forget that he began life in a City shirt as something akin to a number 10, playing just behind the then-preferred out-and-out striker, Jordan Rhodes.
For the first six games of the 2018-19 season, and for most of that preseason, Rhodes was handed the ‘goalscorer’ stripes and Pukki was merely part of a supporting cast that included, among others, Emi Buendia, Marco Stiepermann, Mo Leitner and Onel Hernandez.
But after a lukewarm start to that campaign of one win in the opening six, it was in game seven that Daniel Farke chose to give Pukki the lone striker gig, with Rhodes – who had scored two goals to Pukki’s three – being relegated to a place on the bench.
The opposition that day was Middlesbrough. The rest, as they say, is history.
Teemu scored the only goal in a 1-0 win and, with him as the team’s focal point, they went on the run of dreams.
In the 39 games that followed, 25 were won, 11 were drawn and just three were lost. Pukki added another 26 goals to the three he had already bagged and a Norwich City legend was born.
He developed an almost telepathic understanding with most of those tasked with providing him with ammunition but, most notably, Stiepermann and Buendia. And he understood perfectly Farkeball and his role within it.
He was, quite simply, sensational that season and provided us with memories that will last a lifetime – none better than that shanked injury-time winner against Millwall – but if asked to describe the qualities that made him so lethal, he was far removed from the traditional number 9.
Not especially quick, not particularly good in the air, the ball didn’t stick too well when he had his back to goal, and he certainly wasn’t strong enough to outmuscle the average brute of a Championship centre-back.
But, luckily for us, he had many other more subtle qualities.
He was smart, his movement was sharp and decisive, he knew how to play on the shoulder of the brutes, he was two-footed, and had that priceless quality of being the calmest person in the stadium when a goalscoring chance presented itself.
Mere mortals tense up when the goal beckons. Not Pukki. He does the opposite – a gift only enjoyed by goalscoring greats
That he then went on to hit double figures in our two Premier League campaigns was, arguably, a finer achievement than the 29 he hit in 2018-19 and the 26 he followed it up with in the behind-closed-doors Championship triumph of 2020-21.
To have scored 11 apiece in two of the most hapless seasons in Premier League history was, looking back, quite extraordinary – especially as both teams were notable for their lack of guile and creativity, and inability to create goalscoring chances.
Twenty-two top-flight goals in those circumstances were the mark of a craftsman.
It was therefore incredulous that, despite Pukki’s agent making noises around a summer 2022 departure from Carrow Road, he was persuaded by Dean Smith and Stuart Webber to give us one more season. A decision he almost certainly regrets.
But it’s a mark of the man and the loyalty he has shown to Norwich City that publicly he made not a murmur and instead got his head down and did his best to get this club into the promotion picture.
That it didn’t have the happy ending that the Finn deserved is no reflection of his personal contribution to season 2022-23. While his powers made have waned slightly, with a plentiful supply of chances I’d have still backed him to again hit the 20-goal mark.
But that plentiful supply never materialised. For most of the season, he’s cut a lone, forlorn, frustrated figure who has felt the same pain that we all have. As things turned soured at the Hawthorns in the aftermath of last Saturday’s catastrophe, the hurt was etched on his face.
He deserved a better finale than this.
But nothing can detract from his outstanding contribution to the history of our football club. A class performer, a goalscorer of immense quality, and now the fourth-highest goalscorer in our club’s history (88 goals), bettered only by three greats – Johnny Gavin, Terry Allcock, and Iwan Roberts.
Pukki was, as my dad would put it, ‘Norwichy‘. No airs and graces, humble, unassuming, and, as Daniel Farke once put it, with a look that suggested he washed in his morning cornflakes.
But we loved that about him and, for personal reasons, I too loved the fact he embraced his retreating hairline rather than take the alternative, Wayne Rooney route.
Teemu always kept it real and proved himself to be not only a brilliant footballer but also a thoroughly decent human being.
Next Monday promises to be a difficult day for obvious reasons, but let’s hope that amid it all a true Norwich City legend is given the send-off that he so deserves.
Kiitos Teemu. It’s been wonderful.