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Teemu Pukki – the Championship’s best ever free transfer?

Teemu Pukki celebrating goal against Birmingham City
Image: Joe Toth/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

Zero pounds. The figure that Norwich City had to fork out to earn themselves a player who would be top scorer in the Championship.

That player was Teemu Pukki, who finished the season with a superb total of 29 league goals, as well as earning himself Championship player of the year. Not bad for a freebie from Denmark.

The Finnish striker has had something of a journeyman career across Europe. Starting out in his native country, he earned a move to Spain with Sevilla before returning home to Helsinki HJK in 2010. He had made one solitary La Liga appearance in two years, featuring mainly in the Segunda Division for Sevilla’s B-side.

Then came Germany with Schalke 04, a two-year stint which saw Pukki fail to make any notable waves in the Bundesliga. Next, he made his way to the UK for the first time, turning out for Celtic in a spell which left many fans in Glasgow feeling somewhat uninspired.

Then off snuck Pukki to Brøndby in Denmark, where he quietly amassed a total of 55 goals in 130 games. His last two seasons before his move to England saw totals of 20 and 17 goals. With these scoring figures taken into account, it is somewhat surprising that he was allowed to leave on a free.

Labelled as someone who is “not the most physical of players” by Neil Lennon, Pukki admitted initial concerns about the Championship being too long ball-centric. His Norwich side, to their credit, certainly did their bit in circumventing this expectation.

The Canaries produced incisive passing football, which gained many deserved plaudits. It was football that allowed Pukki to flourish and, in turn, he helped Norwich blossom.

The Fin is an excellent example of a modern number nine. He is a skilful and intelligent player, who is able to effectively hold onto the ball. While not the most physical player, Pukki is hardly the shrinking violet that Lennon has portrayed him to be.

Modern strikers are beyond the days of a classic target man and a technical partner. With many teams moving towards using a single centre forward, strikers have had to become a jack of all trades in their position. Pukki is able to occupy such a role incredibly well.

It is hard to pinpoint any particular weakness in Pukki’s game. There is certainly an argument that he lacks a bit of pace, but this made up for by an abundance of intelligent movement. Movement that facilitates what is probably his most fascinating asset.

While his 29 league goals have grabbed headlines, it becomes clear when watching Pukki that he is a remarkably unselfish player. He has the ability to glide from being an attacking general leading the way, to an infantry-man seamlessly slotting into the yellow ranks of Norwich City.

When the Championship player of the year was announced as Pukki, initial interpretations were that it was a somewhat lazy decision. He scored 29 goals, so just give him the award.

But in reality, Pukki did far more than just finish moves off. His intelligent movement and link up play was vital for the Canaries. He proved to be much more than a simple goal-getter. About 25% of moves he was involved in ended with a shot – the highest of any player in the division.

This considered, he was well worth the honour. So now the question hangs, how will he do in the Premier League?

The Canaries’ recruitment has been modest this summer. They have not indulged themselves with expensive signings like Fulham did last year. It looks as if they will be sticking to their guns – a wise decision considering some of the football they played last season.

Pukki looks set to continue his central role in the side. His place in the team looks to remain relatively unchallenged, so it will be a wait to see if he can handle the step up in quality.

Theoretically, he should be able to cope relatively well. His subtle technical ability and intelligence are skills that should carry into the Premier League and stand him in good stead.

It must be considered, though, the changes in dynamic that Norwich will experience. Last season, they were generally a team that kept control of the ball. This coming season, they will likely have to get used to playing without it more often.

This has the potential to damage Pukki’s effectiveness. As mentioned, pace is not his strong point and he will not be able to fill the role of a pacy counter attacking forward, looking to burst beyond the opposition’s backline.

To adapt, he will likely have to come deeper for the ball in order to create space for more pacy attackers such as Onel Hernandez. Dropping deep is something that Pukki is certainly accustomed to, although it is always a fine balance between doing so and maintaining a presence in the penalty area.

Pukki was able to tow that line with great elegance in the Championship. In the Premier League, it will be a harder task as his side will likely see less of the ball. This could well lead to a reduction in goals, but he will still certainly be a key player for Norwich in England’s top flight.

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