PUKKI: City striker on the challenge of being a known quantity in the Championship
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
As Teemu Pukki re-adjusts the height of the camera reflecting his smiling face into the laptop screen, it is clear that the Finnish international is a man relaxed and enjoying the pressures of firing Norwich City to another promotion.
Rewind to Norwich City's Premier League horror show, and the Finnish international looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. As City travelled to the Etihad to play Manchester City, Pukki uncharacteristically squandered a key one on one chance.
Discourse then shifted to whether Pukki would be filed alongside artists such as Lou Bega or Buggles as City's one-hit-wonder and whether this was the start of a regression.
Evidently, Pukki was lacking confidence. Internally, Daniel Farke and the team at Colney were attempting to coach the form back into him.
The Finn recently embarked on a similar, albeit smaller, drought, leaving City's boss to describe how he had engaged in extra finishing training after the rest of his teammates have trudged back into the warmth provided by the sparkling new facilities at Colney.
This was a rarity for Pukki, a man who has found goals so easy to come by since joining the Canaries in 2018.
As a striker, he possesses that innate ability to score goals. His game is entirely based on drifting on the periphery of matches before exploding with a dynamic run and unleashing an accurate finish into the net in a blink of an eye.
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His demeanour is relaxed, which is why his body language in the top-flight was so concerning. Reflecting on it now, the Finn has learned not to stress in those periods where goals evade him.
“It was probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve had in my career," Pukki admits. "It was a pretty long period without a goal. There were obviously breaks with Covid and I don’t even know how many games it was.
“It was a tough time for me but also tough for the team. We were struggling to create chances at that time and the striker’s main job is to score goals. If you don’t do that then you’re pretty disappointed.
“I’ve been playing football for a long time, so I know what it takes now to come through a period like that.
“I’m experienced enough to deal with it and I have been there many times. It’s important not to get too stressed about that because I know I’m good enough to score goals.
“You need to have patience and belief in yourself. When the right moment arrives, you just go from there. You have to not stress about it, that is so important."
Yet, despite all of the concern, inside the corridors of power Pukki was supported by his coach and his sporting director. There was a genuine belief that they held a joker in their pack, albeit one that was more familiar to opponents than two seasons ago.
With Pukki, there has been a natural frustration at the lack of space compared to two seasons ago. Even in spite of that, the 30-year-old has once again reached the 20-goal landmark every side aspires their striker to hit.
He has become only the third striker in Championship history to record consecutive 20 goal seasons alongside Dwight Gayle and Tammy Abraham. Not bad for a striker who failed at Celtic. Not bad for a striker signed on a free transfer without a lot of fanfare.
What is even more remarkable is the fact Pukki's achievements arrive against a backdrop of expectation.
This time, he isn't a surprise package. But to the detriment of many Championship defences this season, knowing what he is going to do and stopping it are two very different propositions, as the man himself explains.
“I think it’s different in terms of how teams have set up against us this season. The last time we were here, we weren’t a team that people thought would go up.
“They didn’t come to Carrow Road to defend as they do now where they’re looking for a 0-0 or a point. That was not the case two years ago. There was more space than there has been this season. Teams know me a lot better as well and what I’m doing and are more prepared to defend against me when we play against them.”
Pukki may still be scoring, but Norwich are conceding fewer goals this time around.
This isn't a side that is defensive, but it has good defenders. During the course of a half-hour chat, the 30-year-old describes how Ben Gibson's passing has advanced City's progress on the ball and how Ollie Skipp's energy has been a welcome addition.
Despite the difference in style and early season frustration, Pukki is now back in his groove. As he terrorises defences, City march towards the top-flight. Often, when the Finn performs, Norwich find wins follow.
Farke's praise of his centre forward has been incessant. As a striker, there is a perception of selfishness. With Pukki, it's his selflessness that shines through as he quickly turns questions about himself into praise for his team.
Asked about City's new approach, Pukki says the enjoyment factor remains despite increased efforts to improve their goals conceded column.
“We have to do things differently because of how teams are playing against us. There’s not so much space, they are probably quite deep on the pitch. We have to adapt to that and it took us some time. We are doing better, I think.
“It takes a lot of work to create chances. We just need to keep doing the same things to get the points we need to get back to the Premier League.
“I enjoy playing in this team and with these guys who are under me. I know I will get chances to score in every game. That is what every striker wants. If you have that, then it is all down to you to score those chances.”
The 30-year-old is experienced when it comes to professional football, and he is still a man relishing the challenge of firing Norwich back to the Premier League rather than failing to keep afloat amongst the pressure.