Neil Lennon admits the trouble with Teemu Pukki at Celtic was his withdrawn personality. However, the Hibs manager is far from willing to concede the £3 million Finnish striker’s time with Celtic was a write-off.
The pair will be reunited this week when Brondby, where Pukki is now, travel to face Hibs for a Europa League qualifying round tie. Lennon, appointed Hibs manager earlier this summer, is relishing an encounter in which he knows Hibs have little to lose.
Part of the appeal is catching up again with Pukki, who scored nine times in 38 appearances for Celtic when Lennon was manager.
Lennon knows Hibs will need to beware someone who, on his day, could be described as a quiet assassin. But the manager also stressed that Pukki’s struggles at Parkhead underlines how it is possible to contain him.
Garry Parker, Lennon’s assistant, watched Pukki, pictured, score twice in Brondby’s 6-0 win over Valur on Thursday night, when the Danish side secured a tie with Hibs. But Lennon will remind his defenders they have no reason to be scared of the striker, just as they have no reason to feel intimidated by Brondby.
“They are not Barcelona,” he said. Furthermore, Lennon implied, Pukki is no Henrik Larsson.
“Listen, he is not going to turn into Superman just because he has got a move to Brondby,” he said. “He still has the same attributes; good feet, okay with his back to goal and he will go in behind as well.
“He has never been the most physical of players, he was never that type. He will be a similar sort of player as what you saw at Celtic but maybe a bit more comfortable in the Scandinavian environment.
“He’s not the first person to come to Glasgow and not hit the ground running,” added Lennon. “He is a quiet boy. He had a few injury problems as well and at a club like Celtic, when you’re brought in for money, you have to score goals.
“And he wasn’t really an out-and-out goalscorer. He played within himself a little bit, I thought. He didn’t really show his capabilities.
“He’s very quiet. I don’t know if it was too big for him because he had been at Sevilla and at Schalke, so he had been at big clubs. He was never prolific but we felt he had the qualities we wanted but he would maybe say he never got the chance to show that on a consistent basis.”
Whether Pukki should be put in the same bracket as misfit Celtic strikers such as Stefan Scepovic, Mo Bangura and Morten Rasmussen, Lennon is not so sure.
“I think his time probably was harshly assessed,” he said. “He did okay but I wouldn’t say he was a complete disaster. But he may feel he didn’t get enough chances, which maybe is fair.”