In what is increasingly looking like another lost season under Gold and Sullivan, no West Ham player has divided opinion quite like Sébastien Haller.
Our record signing has shown the physicality to dominate Premier League defences, but struggles to receive the necessary service from an anemic midfield to match his 15 goals and nine assists in last year’s Bundesliga.
Often our only window into the lives of footballers comes during weekly 90 minute installments, making it easy to forget that footballers are human beings with families and emotions.
But in an interview for Blowing Bubbles, we get a better understanding of the man beneath the claret and blue shirt.
The emotion is clear in Haller’s voice as he speaks of a cosmopolitan career that has seen goals scored in his native France, the Netherlands, and Germany. It is remarkable that the striker has managed to be so well-travelled at just 25 years of age.
Haller’s journey to the Hammers began at the Auxerre academy at the age of 13, where after a successful trial he left home to join the club that produced Philippe Mexès and Eric Cantona.
And there’s a wistful edge to his voice as he recounts leaving home at the same age that most are adjusting to secondary school.
‘It’s a big step but they [his parents] knew it was something good and crazy for me, and also for them’.
Sadness then creeps into this voice when describing that due to school holidays he wouldn’t see his parents for up to six weeks at a time: ‘Luckily it was not that far from my hometown [Ris-Orangis, a Paris suburb] it was only one and a half hour drive’.
Haller’s youthful determination helped him maximise this opportunity, however, he realised the emotional toll was harder on his parents.
‘For me it was easy, I did my passion in the thing I really loved so it was really good for me; but I know some other kids were more affected by the distance.’
He got his head down as a young player in the disciplined AJA youth system and broke into the first team the season after his club’s relegation from the top division into Ligue 2.
But it wasn’t a smooth transition into the senior squad: ‘I didn’t have the help I needed at the time,’ he said.
During his two-and-a-half year stint in the first team, he continued: ‘I played one week, the other week I didn’t play, it wasn’t a perfect situation for me. Because I played with the second team sometimes too, I wasn’t sure what would happen next weekend’.
It was a situation that naturally left Haller feeling under-confident.
At 20 years of age, Haller and his future wife moved to Eredivisie to join FC Utrecht, where his career flourished after being granted a solid run in the first team.
A prolific three seasons in the Dutch league followed seeing the Frenchman score 41 league goals in 82 games.
Commenting on the division’s reputation for poor defending and the differences from the French game, Haller said: “The second league in France is more like a fight. In Holland, people want to play no matter what; they can take crazy risks to play football on the ground. Physically it’s not the hardest competition, for someone like me it was easier.’
Simultaneously, the Frenchman was putting in noteworthy performances for his national youth teams.
He’s been capped at all age-group levels by France, from the Under 17s up to the Under 21s. Haller’s record for Les Espoirs was equally impressive, scoring 13 goals from 20 appearances, including a hat-trick against Estonia in March 2015.
In 2017 Haller moved on from FC Utrecht to join Eintracht Frankfurt. Unlike the litany of strikers who tore up Eredivisie only to never return to the heights again; Germany witnessed the most prolific period of Sébastien Haller’s career.
Haller flourished playing under Niko Kovač’s stewardship, forming a lethal forward-line alongside Luka Jović and Ante Rebić. Frankfurt won the DFB-Pokal in 2018, beating Bayern Munich in the final game of his first season.
Fondly reflecting on this time, Haller described the experience as “incredible”.
He credited the team’s success to hard work on the training ground: ‘the team was working hard… We won the semi final in Schalke. We knew the final is the final, it’s just one game. It could be Bayern, it can be any time, it’s just 90 minutes.’
Bringing the trophy back to Frankfurt is one of Haller’s personal highlights, unveiling the cup to a 50,000 raucous crowd is the perfect way to end a debut season.
Last year Haller helped Eintracht Frankfurt to a seventh place finish; as well as to the Europa League semi final where only a penalty shootout loss to Chelsea kept the Frenchman from the final.
He credits this success to the dynamic attacking tandem with Jović and Rebić: ‘We understood how the other one was playing. We had different qualities and focused on the things we did best. When you know what everyone does the best and you use it, it works.’
Haller added considerably to his game that season, chipping in nine assists; along with efficient shooting – scoring 15 goals from an average of two shots per game.
‘I had only midfielders around me, I was the only striker..I had to score goals, that’s it.’
Unfortunately, at this early stage of Haller’s West Ham career, he’s appeared isolated up front and needs more support.
Last campaign acted as Haller’s breakout in terms of international recognition, secondary to his achievements on the pitch, he also became the player with the highest strength attribute in FIFA 19.
Haller won more aerial duels (201) than any other player in the Bundesliga last season, and brought his talents to West Ham during the summer transfer window, smashing our transfer record to get him into the team for £45 million.
It took Haller three games to record his first and second goals for the Hammers, during a 3-1 win over Watford at Vicarage Road.
He kept his feet on the ground and felt like his overall performance could have been better.
‘I know how it works, people like to become crazy when they score two goals, they say “yeah you will score 30 goals, next game you will score three goals, easy”.
‘Sometimes it goes well for you and you score goals, but you know next weekend you won’t score. We have to stay humble.
‘After the game you can celebrate a win, three points, everyone is happy. But you must focus on the next game.’
Haller emphasises that it is important to not get too high and not get too low, just continue working hard on and off the pitch.
Haller still harbours ambitions of making his full debut for Les Bleus, he came through the system along with players such as Kurt Zouma, Adrien Rabiot, Ferland Mendy, and at the time of the interview, Haller said he saw West Ham as the perfect team to break into the national team.
‘There are a lot of players are here (playing in England) and also in the first national team, so of course it’s great, if I could play with them and I wish for myself (to play) for the first national team.’
He is aware of the dedication required to break into the strike force of the reigning world champions.
‘You have to deserve it. The only thing I know is that I’m here just to try to do my best. If one day he (France head coach Didier Deschamps) needs me, I’m here. But yeah, just wait for your time, keep working and if it comes, it comes. I will be happy if it comes.’ BBM