Why a Celtic flop may prevent Scotland from reaching Euro 2020

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Teemu Pukki is a hard name to forget but that’s what many in Scottish football have done since he left Celtic as a flop in 2014. Joel Sked looks at how the Finn could now stand between Scotland and at Euro 2020.

The summer of 2013 was an interesting one for Celtic fans. They watched as fans’ favourites Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper left for sizeable fees. The latter had just hit 31 goals, taking his tally to 82 goals in 138 appearances.

Teemu Pukki flopped at Celtic. Picture: SNS/Sammy Turner

Teemu Pukki flopped at Celtic. Picture: SNS/Sammy Turner

With Anthony Stokes, Georgios Samaras and Kris Commons capable of stepping up to fill the void left by Hooper and help replace his goals there needn’t have been an excess of pressure on a new striker. However, Celtic parted with around £3million for Finnish hitman Teemu Pukki, brought in from German giants Schalke 04 on a four-year-deal. Understandably, fans and then manager Neil Lennon had both excitement and expectation.

Those expectations only rose when he nodded in against Hearts on his debut, followed by a goal in his second league appearance. Baby-faced and busy, there were hopes for the forward who had developed during a spell in Spain with Sevilla.

It was a flame that shone brightly but over the next few months it fizzled out as he failed to score again until December before finishing the season on seven goals. He stayed with the club during pre-season under fellow Scandinavian Ronny Deila, even netting a double in a Champions League qualifier against KR Reyjkavik. Come the end of the transfer window he was on loan at Danish side Brondby.

There are a number of theories as to why it didn’t work out. Clearly a talented footballer it was unclear what type of forward he was. While Hooper wasn’t a complete striker, he was the finished article in terms of what Celtic needed. On the other hand Pukki was an attacker. He had even been compared to Finnish legend Jari Litmanen ahead of his move to Sevilla. The only trait they seemed to share was their nationality. Plus Celtic had Commons.

Pukki has been impressive for Finland. Picture: MARTTI KAINULAINEN/AFP/Getty

Pukki has been impressive for Finland. Picture: MARTTI KAINULAINEN/AFP/Getty

Both Lennon and the player’s agent have spoken of chinks in his mentality on and off the pitch, while the current Hibs boss also saw an individual who had difficulty finding his place at Celtic and in Glasgow.

Speaking in 2016, the Northern Irishman said: “He’s not the first person to come to Glasgow and not hit the ground running.

“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.”

Four seasons at Brondby have since worked wonders for Pukki.

Some individuals can be disheartened at taking a step back, the way he did leaving Celtic for Denmark - and Schalke for Scottish football. They fall into this treacherous path which only leads downward but it feels like a struggle against an incline. It becomes impossible to reverse.

Instead, Pukki knuckled down and built himself back up slowly.

His agent told the Norwich Evening News: “He runs more. He struggles more, he tackles more, he is in better physical condition and capable of more intense spurts. The whole starting point for the way he plays is different. The Danish league was kind of a step backward, but it had to be done. Something had to change, and Teemu realised that was the case. Now he really wants to work.”

Two seasons of regular football and 26 goals were the perfect platform for the 2016-2017 campaign where he hit 29 goals, including a hat-trick against Hertha Berlin. Pukki had ambitions to make a forward step in his career, a jump to a new level, so opted against penning a new deal, netting 19 times in his final season at Brondby.

He had a number of potential suitors in the summer but Norwich City won the battle. Their sporting director Stuart Webber was key to the deal having taken a liking to Pukki when he was at Schalke.

The Finn is already being talked about as the signing of the season in the Championship. He has netted ten goals in all competitions for the league leaders and returned from missing three Championship fixtures to hit back-to-back doubles.

Pukki has translated his scoring to the international stage with the forward hitting the goals in three 1-0 wins as Finland topped their Uefa Nations League group to set up a potential play-off with Scotland to reach Euro 2020.

He can now be deemed a striker. The one Celtic were looking for all those years ago to replace Hooper. He has continued to make improvements to his game and now provides Norwich with runs in behind, off the shoulder of defenders. Canaries boss Daniel Farke describes him as “a technical player with really smart movements”.

Norwich fans are more emotive, more effusive in their praise. After all he’s their goalscorer, in the right place at the right time, taking the correct shot from the correct position, finding the correct angle.

A quick search of their thoughts brings up supporters calling him the “absolute GOAT (Greatest of all Time)”, calling for him to be Prime Minister. One even suggests Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero “has posters of Pukki on his walls”.

One phrase was used more than any other: “No Pukki No Party.”

It may be more than a year before Alex McLeish’s men could face Finland to secure passage to Euro 2020 but by then the former Celtic striker could be a Premier League striker, ready to spoil Scotland’s party.