Paddy Davitt: Quiet assassin who has joined City striker royalty
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Teemu Pukki. The unassuming family man with a killer instinct on the pitch. A man you suspect far more comfortable in the background but who reluctantly takes centre stage for Norwich City.
A man who could slip unnoticed through the crowds but who carries the weight of expectancy of his country, ahead of Finland’s maiden bow at this summer’s European Championships.
He is the star attraction you sense would be happier lower down the bill.
We can all probably guess what he makes of his head coach, Daniel Farke, bestowing legendary status on him for his exploits at Carrow Road.
Farke was asked recently by a Helsinki-based journalist to assess Pukki’s legacy in these parts. The eulogy was warm and glowing.
He must surely have surpassed every expectation the Norwich boss, and sporting director Stuart Webber, had when they first brought him to the club in a window where Jordan Rhodes appeared to be the headline acquisition.
Pukki is the free transfer to end all free transfers, with the goalscoring statistics that will stand the test of time and favourable comparison with any of his predecessors in green and yellow.
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Norwich have had the best years of his career. Farke certainly hopes there are more chapters left to write.
Pukki himself is normally a man who prefers to let his talented feet do the talking but he did concede recently the Premier League feels like unfinished business.
After the epic high of a blistering start to his first tilt at top flight life - that brought him the personal accolade of the league’s player-of-the-month and the distinction of scoring a first Norwich hat-trick at that level since Efan Ekoku - things headed south.
Pukki never looked the same player again after injuring his toe just before Christmas in a game where he had earlier plundered his nnth Premier League goal at Leicester.
On reflection that may well have been the moment when the Canaries’ prospects of pulling off the ‘miracle’ ended. Without their talisman producing in ample quantities City began to lose touch in a tortuous finale either side of a lockdown which placed Norwich’s failure to stay up in proper context.
There was even the rare ignominy of demotion from Farke’s starting XI towards the end of that bittersweet campaign, which raised genuine concerns Pukki’s best days were behind him.
Perhaps that gruelling schedule for club and country had taken a heavy toll.
It is a mark of the man he has roared back this season to spearhead what seems an inexorable march towards another Championship title and Premier League promotion.
His 25 league goals have also earned him another nomination for the division’s player-of-the-season. In that endeavour he looks set to defer to Emi Buendia; his supplier-in-chief and a pairing that have been the beating heart of Farke’s successful Championship template.
The Finn is not simply a special talent, he is a special character. The hunger appears undimmed.
The post at QPR on Saturday took a fearful whack from his boot after spurning what, for him, would be considered a routine chance in the second half of that 3-1 Championship away win.
Bar the odd fit of pique, the personable manner disguises that inner drive and determination. But it is not the goals that endear him to his team mates. It is the selfless work ethic and the willingness to chase lost causes.
You can see that in the communal celebrations on the park that greet his goals, or the Abba-adapted tributes in a champagne doused home dressing room after the latest promotion was sealed, despite that recent defeat to Bournemouth.
If there was a popularity contest within the Norwich City squad he would doubtless win that as well.
You can debate whether he is the best free transfer ever. You can even debate whether Farke has gone early with his declaration of legendary status.
But there is no disputing he will rightly be regarded as an iconic figure in a fertile period in the modern era of the football club.