In an unorthodox move, I’m going to start this piece with a clarification. The following does not aim to make out that Sebastien Haller is a perfect footballer. It also does not conclude that he was a good signing for West Ham.
I know deep down that Haller wasn’t the right fit for West Ham. I know that he didn’t settle in to life in the East End.
But in his last few games as a Hamer, he came in for a lot of criticism, especially once Michail Antonio’s injury layoff meant we saw more of the former Bundesliga star.
Many fan comments labelled Haller as lazy, as a player who doesn’t care and attacked the forward’s body language.
I can’t claim to be an expert in many things, especially not body language, but that struck a chord with me.
It made me want to keep a closer eye on him and question whether the criticism was harsh, or if his mannerisms really did show that he was along for the ride.
One of the best moments of the season so far was THAT overhead kick against Crystal Palace. The 26-year-old struck the ball acrobatically and with ease. It was a stunning goal.
The muted celebrations we had come to know from Haller followed, whilst his teammates huddled around with joy on their faces.
Upon watching the replays, what was astounding was that he noticeably shook his head after realising he’d scored.
There are one of two things I think this could be; He was in disbelief that he’d scored such a goal as doing it in training is one thing, successfully completing the move during a game in the Premier League is another, or he thinks he could have done better.
Between that moment and his post-match interviews, it dawned on me. Haller isn’t a player who has to tell you how humble and grateful he is. He just is. Which in itself illustrates his genuine ability to be modest.
In an interview straight after the game with West Ham TV, Haller looked happy, if a little shy!
He smiled, he laughed, he praised the team and he seemed proud. Even the social media comments underneath the video showed how fans loved seeing him come across like this and, dare I say it, people warmed to him for a while.
In the games following that goal, I noticed his head shaking more and more. This is a man who is incredibly hard on himself. Shot goes wide? He sighs. Misses a pass? His head and shoulders drop. Bad touch? A wave of the arms.
We know he has the ability to score lovely goals. We have also seen on occasion a nice touch and pass. It’s his self-esteem that needs work.
Whilst we touch on his confidence, it’s a good time to take a look at how David Moyes helped the striker with this matter.
Oh, well, he didn’t really, did he? Again, don’t get me wrong here, I’m fully behind Moyesey as manager of this team. I’ll even defend his questionable starting line-ups and substitutions.
However, it was worth noting that in many interviews, the West Ham boss couldn’t say a positive word about Haller. Several interviewers even set him up to praise his man, but so often he shrugged off the opportunity and changed the subject.
Alongside the head shaking, shoulder shrugging and sighing, Sebastien has a couple of other habits that perhaps swayed fans into believing he wasn’t fully on the pitch and playing for the team.
Hands on the hips is a common complaint of fans, something which I didn’t see him do in his final few games in East London. He started to really follow the game both going forward and defensively.
There was also a lot of sock pulling. Maybe I only noticed because I was paying more attention to the minor details of his movements. Psychologically, I don’t know what that means. Perhaps it’s a habit. Maybe he just needs better socks.
The criticism of Haller following the game against Leeds mostly questioned his footballing prowess, when in fact his missed opportunities, poor touches and misplaced passes were frustrating him as much as they were us.
Look back at his past club successes – we can see he is a good footballer, it just didn’t click for him at West Ham. And I think we’ve all come to accept that this move was not the best one for him or for Moyes.
There were subtle elements of his body language that showed me he was starting to warm up after getting a run of games under his belt; little smiles, complaining to the referee to support his teammates, chasing passes between opposition players, fist bumps with substitutes.
A footballer who doesn’t openly live a lavish lifestyle is something we’re just not used to. One who doesn’t elaborately celebrate goals and wins is also something we’re not accustomed to.
As fans, we can of course judge players by their footballing abilities. There are times when it’s reasonable to also question a player’s passion, effort and commitment.
I felt that some of the negative words thrown in Haller’s path in his closing weeks at West Ham were directed at the wrong elements of his game.
Sebastien Haller comes across as an exemplary human, good family man and modest to the max. There’s nothing to not like about that.
We won’t get to see if he could have flourished and warmed more into the season, but we’ll certainly keep an eye on how he gets on at Ajax!