It’s July 2022, about 11 pm, in the Spanish Quarter of Naples. I’m walking between the crowded bars, wearing my beautiful, new, pinstriped Norwich shirt for the first time. Out of nowhere, a man whizzes past on the back of a moped, punching the air in my general direction and yelling ‘PUKKI PUKKI PUKKI!’ in a thick Neopolitan accent.
Record scratch, freeze frame. Let me take you back to July 2018.
That summer, I got the chance to interview Grant Holt for MyFootballWriter. I took the opportunity to ask him about Norwich’s exciting new striker, Jordan Rhodes.
Holt told me that he’d do well, but not to underestimate our other recent signing – Teemu Pukki.
I’m not sure I even wrote up the line on Pukki. I disregarded everything I was told and continued to think he’d be nothing but a bit-part player. It was inconceivable at the time that the Finnish journeyman would end up scoring ten more goals for Norwich than Holt himself, my teenage idol, who clearly knew what he was talking about.
I quickly realised I’d got things wrong, but not even Holty could foresee the kind of cultural icon Teemu was about to become.
Pukki wasn’t just good, he turned out to be one of the best players in the world. Seriously.
Norwich got promoted in 2018-19 with 93 goals scored, but an xG of just 73. By far the biggest contributing factor towards that huge discrepancy was Teemu Pukki.
He was scoring from everywhere in the box – 29 league goals to be exact, without a single penalty. He was so prolific that one esteemed football podcast (please forgive my vague memory – it was four years ago – but what they said always stuck with me) in the summer of 2019, predicted that Norwich would get relegated because Pukki was enhancing the team’s results by so much.
The only caveat to that prediction was that Norwich would stay up if Pukki was genuinely world-class – in which case he’d continue to vastly outperform his xG.
Then the season started, and Teemu scored one against Liverpool, three against Newcastle, one against Man City, won the Premier League Player of the Month for August, and was named at number 86 in FourFourTwo magazine’s list of the 100 best players in the world.
That’s 86th in the world. And he played for Norwich.
From that ludicrous high point, he still scored another 53 goals for City. Sure, never again at the same absurd rate. But, even if he couldn’t keep us in the Premier League by himself, he has still shown all his teammates exactly how high the bar should be throughout the last five years. Especially in the last two, when he’s been forced to create most of his goals by himself.
If you retrace those last five years, how many of your fondest football memories involve Teemu? His last-minute winners against Millwall and Bolton, 22 goals in the Premier League in two dreadful teams, the beautiful linkup play with Emi Buendía (we’ve rarely, if ever, seen a mind meld like it at Carrow Road), the hat-trick against Huddersfield, even the lovely goal against Bristol City this season, or the point he got at Bramall Lane all by himself.
And not just on the pitch, either.
Did you ever settle down at the pub just as he scored an important away goal (read: Bolton away in this case) and christen your first-ever Pukki pint?
Do you remember the Pukki parties after winning promotion, the humorous photos of him with fans in Mantra nightclub, the Mohawk, the admittance that he didn’t actually want to come to Norwich but that he’s so glad he did? The 26 goals in a season where we had nothing to look forward to but the next Norwich win?
In fact, Pukki transcends his record on the pitch. For half a decade he’s been the face of Norwich City.
When Arsenal fans somewhat naïvely believed Norwich could prevent Spurs from attaining Champions League football last May, they didn’t change their Twitter avatars to the club badge, or captain Grant Hanley, or Stuart Webber. They chose pictures of Teemu.
When I wore Norwich’s glorious home shirt in Italy last summer, ten or more football-mad Neopolitans commented on my shirt that evening, and not one of them mentioned the word ‘Norwich’. They all mentioned Teemu Pukki.
He has truly come to embody our football club and our city. And I couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather choose to represent us.