Will we regret letting Haller go without getting a replacement?

The striker never looked at home in our system but he was better than nothing

It was only a couple of months ago that I was writing about my thoughts on Sebastien Haller and how it would be a real shame to see a very good striker leave after we failed to find a suitable system in which he could thrive.

Now, having seen him sold to Ajax for £20m and not replacing him in the January transfer window, there is a feeling we might live to regret washing our hands of the Ivorian in such haste.

Since Haller’s switch to Holland, he has netted twice and made four assists in seven appearances. 

That’s almost a goal involvement per game for a team that knows exactly how to use him and it just goes to show that he can be a very useful player when that’s the case. 

I’m not buying the whole ‘but the Eredivise is an easier league’ argument – Haller’s first three appearances for Ajax came against PSV, FC Twente and Feyenoord, and he registered one goal and three assists in those games. 

Ajax knew what they were getting with Haller and he perfectly fits their 4-3-3 system, with the likes of Dusan Tadic, Antony, Quincy Promes, David Neres and Zakaria Labyad playing off him. 

Yes, his move away from West Ham and the chance of a fresh start in Holland will have also given him his confidence back, but the simple fact is Ajax had done their homework before signing him and knew exactly where he would fit in and be effective. 

West Ham didn’t do their homework or, as other clubs call it, scouting. 

What Haller’s immediate success in Holland tells us is that he was brought to east London on a whim when we paid a club record £45m for him in July 2019. 

Manuel Pellegrini didn’t really know how to utilise his strengths and by the time David Moyes came along, it was clear he didn’t have much interest in working out how to do so. Moyes had other plans, which is fair enough.

But as I wrote in my last Haller-related column, that’s been West Ham’s biggest issue for over a decade now. We just don’t seem to have much luck when signing strikers. 

That will inevitably be down to a number of factors, but so many failed signings in this position have been due to players arriving under managers who had either panic bought them in the first place or just had no idea how to use them in their preferred system. 

Jonathan Calleri, Simone Zaza, Ashley Fletcher, Lucas Perez and even Javier Hernandez are just a handful of recent examples, while we may have been including Marko Arnautovic in that list if David Moyes hadn’t arrived and worked out how to get the best out of him, because Slaven Bilic didn’t have much of a clue before his sacking.

Sebastien Haller will now be added to that list, but he is without doubt the most talented of the lot and showed glimpses of how good he is while at the club. 

Three over-head kicks, a 25-yard winner at Bramall Lane, numerous tap-ins thanks to being in the right place at the right time – Haller was and still is a very good goalscorer, but was essentially bitten by the West Ham striker curse.

So now we’re left with just Michail Antonio – and his unreliable hamstrings – as the man tasked with firing us into European competition during the second half of this season. 

The decision to sell Haller and not replace him with a more suitable striker has a very real chance of undermining all the hard work Moyes and his players have done up to this point.  

If Antonio gets injured, who will we call upon? Yarmolenko isn’t exactly the most reliable either when it comes to fitness and Mipo Odubeko isn’t experienced enough to warrant having so much pressure placed upon him.

The irony of this whole situation is that by the end of the January transfer window, West Ham fans were almost begging the club to just sign anyone who might only slightly resemble a striker. 

We were so desperate to see the back of a player who didn’t fit the system and then were equally as desperate to see us replace him with another striker who may not have fit the system either.

Of course, it all might turn out well in the end. Antonio might remain fit and firing for the rest of the season, Odubeko might get his chance and shine and Yarmolenko might turn out to be a useful deputy, but it’s a huge risk David Moyes and the club has taken. 

It’s already turned out well for Haller. He’s left a club that didn’t appreciate him and joined one that does, and he’s thriving already. 

Let’s just hope it’s a happy ending for everyone come May. 

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