MIXU PAATELAINEN was back in Scotland this week, among the speakers addressing a group of aspiring managers undertaking their Pro Licence at Hampden.
Coaching has evolved since the Finn began his playing career in the mid-1980s but there are still times, he feels, when it is useful to take a leaf out of former manager Jim McLean's book by adopting more of a "straight and blunt" approach. He then proceeded to do just that regarding the affairs and prospects of Teemu Pukki.
Paatelainen, as manager of the Finnish national team, has a vested interest in how Pukki fares at Celtic and so far it has been less than dazzling. Neil Lennon would surely have expected better than a three-goal return for the club's £3m outlay in August, the striker's failure to score more frequently expediting the manager's search this month for one that can.
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This, then, would have seemed the perfect chance for Paatelainen to unequivocally back his man, to say to Celtic, "Call off the search! Teemu will be a huge success!" Instead, what came was an honest and frank assessment that perhaps Pukki may never come good for Celtic. "Sometimes a slow start turns good, sometimes a slow start never happens and you have to move on," said Paatelainen with a shrug. "That's life."
Pukki is 23. He has been on the books of Sevilla, won league titles and played in Europe with HJK Helsinki, and made almost 50 Bundesliga appearances for Schalke. He has 28 caps for Finland and scored six goals, one of which came against Spain. He clearly has something about him. Extracting the best of it, however, is something to have so far eluded Lennon and his coaching staff.
Paatelainen can empathise. When Pukki first broke into the national team he similarly struggled to make an impact despite enjoying great success at club level. "He is a quiet boy and he will never be a ringleader in the dressing room," added the former Hibernian and Kilmarnock manager. "He will come out more from his shell. The same thing happened with the national team. I didn't see him smile too much and on the pitch he wasn't producing it. I was thinking, 'what is going on here?' because I had seen him score fantastic goals at HJK Helsinki. He did it for Schalke in European competition so I knew he could do it.
"I looked back at his history and when he came back to Helsinki from Sevilla again he had a quiet spell to begin with. It is the same every time he changes environment so I am not surprised this has happened. But, at top-level football with Celtic you are not given time, you are pushed on the sidelines. Teemu is not a bad player, I know that, I have seen it. It is just taking him a bit more time."
Lennon has been patient with Pukki, believing there is still time for the Finn to make an impact. The player himself has spoken about the hectic beginning to his life as a Celtic player, the last-minute transfer deal, the surfeit of domestic and European fixtures, and no extended winter break. He hopes that spending this week with his team-mates in Turkey, with everything operating at a slower pace, will finally give him the chance to settle in. Paatelainen hopes that is the case but could not guarantee it.
"I'm not surprised he finds himself on the bench quite often," he said. "His last goal was against Hibs [in mid-December, his first since September] so he needs to start scoring regularly to keep his place. That is the same for every club. I must tip my hat to Neil Lennon and how patient he has been with him. He has given him time, and he understands the personality. But at the top level how much time are you given?"
Paatelainen outlined Pukki's strengths. "He is good turning with the ball, he is good running behind the line, which he hasn't done too much with Celtic. But he can also play a little bit deeper, in the number 10 position because of his technical ability. He is not strong - if someone is against him then he can be pushed to the side - but he can link and make things happen."
As a former forward, Paatelainen knows there are times when such a player needs to be selfish. "[At times] his willingness to work and do things for the team gets him into situations and places where he can't score. If he wants to be a goalscorer he has to think about himself also."
Finland, like the rest of the continent, will discover next month who they will face in the qualifying phase for Euro 2016. Pukki will be central to the Finns' chances of making the finals, his worth diminished if he is not playing regularly at Celtic, or elsewhere.
"I want him to play a lot and do well so he is well prepared for our matches," added Paatelainen. "Of course, if it becomes a long time when he does not play [then it may be better for him to move on]. But I think he will be given his chance and then it is up to him."
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