He scored a hat-trick in the space of three minutes and fired home his country's first ever goal at a major tournament, but it’s been a long, winding road to the top for Finland's Joel Pohjanpalo.
bundesliga.com has the lowdown on Bayer Leverkusen's free-scoring striker…
Club: Bayer Leverkusen
Country: Finland (41 caps, nine goals)
Born in Helsinki, Pohjanpalo's footballing journey began at PK-35 Vantaa, but gathered pace when he joined national powerhouse, HJK, aged 12. He made his debut for the reserve team, Klubi-04, at 16 and scored a record-breaking 33 league goals in just 21 appearances in his first campaign with the club.
Pohjanpalo's talents quickly took him into the HJK senior fold, where he played out a 19-goal season, before moving to Leverkusen at 18. The young striker spent the next three seasons on loan in the Bundesliga 2 with VfR Aalen and Fortuna Düsseldorf, before introducing himself to the Leverkusen first team in 2016.
Pohjanpalo made his long-awaited Leverkusen debut on the opening weekend of 2016/17, scoring in defeat to Borussia Mönchengladbach. A week later against Hamburg, he netted a hat-trick, making it four goals in just 30 minutes of Bundesliga action. A metatarsal fracture checked his scoring flow, which resumed with goals in each of the final two games of the campaign.
Following two seasons of injury struggles and diminished game time, Pohjanpalo made a loan move to Hamburg, scoring nine goals in just 14 Bundesliga 2 appearances in 2019/20. In 2020/21, the forward spent the season back in the Bundesliga with Union Berlin. He struck six times - including yet another hat-trick - in 19 league appearances and only 10 starts. In total, Pohjanpalo has scored every 88 minutes he has played in the German top-flight.
Pohjanpalo took that scoring form into his country's first major tournament at UEFA Euro 2020, where the Leverkusen-owned striker fired home Finland's first goal on the way to their first win at a major finals.
Plays a bit like: Mikael Forssell
Pohjanpalo has proven that he needs little time to make a difference on the pitch, or settle into a new club. The similarities with Finland's third-highest scorer of all time, Mikael Forssell, are uncanny.
His career has followed a similarly underrated path, but the likeness doesn't end there. Standing at 6'0" on the nose, Pohjanpalo loves to battle defenders and is willing to get his goals by any means necessary. Headers and poacher’s finishes are among his favoured modes of dispatch.
Did you know?
Pohjanpalo made history in his first top-tier league appearance in Finland, firing home a hat-trick inside 162 seconds of his league debut, aged 18.
In total, Pohjanpalo has scored five career hat-tricks - one at all but one of the clubs he has played for so far in his career.
Watch: Joel Pohjanpalo's most recent Bundesliga hat-trick!
What they're saying
"Joel is a goalscorer. He fits our requirements perfectly, is physically robust and has proven his nose for goal in the past." - Union Berlin sporting director Oliver Ruhnert
"I had too much adrenaline in my blood, but I was sure that if the ball came to me, I would score." - Pohjanpalo after his hat-trick for Leverkusen against Hamburg in 2016
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