Michael Bailey: Sisu, goats and legacy – there’s more to Pukki power at Norwich City
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
In his weekly column, Norwich City correspondent Michael Bailey scratches the surface of the Finland effect and Sisu on the Canaries – how Teemu Pukki turned potential into Championship potency.
It was grey, damp and cold around Colney Training Centre. The sort of day you sit inside with a coffee if you’re about to do any sort of interviewing.
But Ville Niskanen was more than happy to venture out in conditions mirroring those 1,700 miles away in Finland, and perch in City’s fresh 500-seater stand that now accompanies their prime training pitch.
A Finnish sports journalist for titles that include Kymen Sanomat from Teemu Pukki’s home town of Kotka, Ville informs me that most Finnish football clubs would love a stand like the one at Colney – never mind City’s set-up at Carrow Road.
It emphasises the modest background of a true Canaries star this season; a man head coach Daniel Farke recently referred to as “the poster boy” for City’s current and phenomenally successful guise.
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“When you talk about sports in Finland, you have to understand football is not the biggest spectator sport – that is ice hockey,” Niskanen tells, me as his interviewer sticks to British type and huddles around his coffee.
“But football is widely followed on the national stage so every time Teemu plays for Finland, everybody follows him and now they have a little hope of getting the big games at the Euros too. So of course, he is a superstar and a highly followed sports figure in Finland.
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“There are certain characteristics about the Finnish, a strong work ethic and the Finnish word Sisu: working with courage and the ability to hang on, if you like.
“There are some common features about Finnish people who have made a success of their sport. They are all hard-working and they are all humble. It’s deep in our nation’s culture and a combination that leads to success, if you already have the potential.
“I remember first seeing Teemu play for his home team KTP. He was a teenager but you could see he had potential.
“Of course, many don’t fulfil that but it’s nice to see Teemu is finally doing so. He’s always had an instinct for scoring goals.”
It’s now widely known among City fans that the word Teemu also translates in Finnish as ‘goat’ – a neat English acronym for Greatest Of All Time that has a tendency to be overused in a manner similar to the tag ‘legend’.
What Ville did reveal was that Pukki is also a Finnish nickname for Santa Claus. My Finnish friend revealed some of his colleagues initially assumed he was off to interview a resting Father Christmas, rather than an unrested striker in Norfolk.
For my part, there was initial disappointment that I didn’t know this nugget at joulu (Finnish for Christmas) before discovering that ‘joulupukki’ – literal translation: Christmas goat – was “a man who put horns on his head as in shamanistic tradition to look like a goat” as part of Finnish Christmas ritual. You learn something new every day.
After processing that, there was finally the realisation that a man nicknamed Santa was on the verge of delivering the greatest present any Norwich City fan could wish for: not promotion, but an entire football season of unbridled, relentless pride and joy.
Pukki is one of City’s recruitment poster boys for a reason.
It doesn’t take long going through his background to appreciate the clubs and levels at which he has played – and as soon as you marry those to his record this season, you realise his success at Norwich City is no fluke.
There is a reason why Pukki’s movement, touch and ability look a class apart to Championship supporters, players and managers alike – because it is.
“I guess Bröndby is where he ‘found himself’ as a footballer, and he’s said before it was when he really became a better sportsman – and of course now, everything has gone so well since joining Norwich,” added Niskanen.
“In Finland we may have known he had the potential, but when you don’t play in Europe’s biggest leagues you maybe fly under the radar of everyone else.
“I’m happy for the people of Norwich that you have a good goalscorer right now. It’s worked out quite well, hasn’t it?”
And Norwich may well benefit far beyond a higher goal output and even their Premier League return.
“Finland has a long tradition of showing English football games on television, so many Finnish people know English teams very well.
“My father is 60 and he is a Liverpool fan. I know a lot of people my age are Manchester United fans. So now the little Finnish kids who idolise Teemu, maybe they will become Canaries supporters.”
Pukki is arguably favourite to be named Norwich City’s player of the season, off the back of one of the most prolific campaigns any Canaries striker has enjoyed – and already the best of any Finnish forward in England, having beaten Shefki Kuqi’s previous record while with Ipswich Town.
Pukki is one of three nominees for EFL Championship player of the season; an award he may yet walk away with before the month is done.
Liverpool’s former Finn Jari Litmanen – “Finnish presidents may change but we have only one king, and that is Jari,” adds Niskanen – had his say too, back in February.
“Pukki’s football is a great combination of everything he’s experienced: the humbleness and unselfishness from Kotka, the scoring skill and easy touch he learned in Spain, the self-confidence from his time at HJK in Finland, the moral and defending from Germany, the tough physical lessons from Scotland, and the clinical finishing mastered at Bröndby.
“I believe and hope Pukki will become a Finnish striker in the Premier League…I hope it happens in the shirt of Norwich City, because that is the club where all the pieces of the puzzle have truly come together.”
As would be the case in Finland, what Jari says goes – and this season, both Pukki and Norwich City have indeed been the gifts that keep giving.
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