Football Features

Sebastien Haller: Not right for West Ham but Ajax’s main man in the Champions League

By Harry Edwards

Published: 21:55, 23 February 2022 | Updated: 18:39, 24 November 2022

Sebastien Haller continues to write himself into the Champions League history books, being the main man in Ajax’s 2-2 draw with Benfica on Wednesday night.

It’s been one of the stories of the Champions League campaign, Haller’s first in Europe’s premier club competition, and the Ivorian is showing no signs of slowing down. What a difference a year makes.

It was only in January 2021 that Haller left West Ham United as a Premier League flop, having failed to make an impressive following his move from Eintracht Frankfurt for a club-record fee.

The Hammers parted company with £45m for Haller’s services but sold him 18 months later for just over £20m after 14 goals in 54 appearances. Haller doesn’t hold any hatred for his spell in East London, however.

The Ivorian instead admits that he just wasn’t the right man for West Ham, especially after David Moyes replaced Manuel Pellegrini in the dugout.

“I was brought in by Manuel Pellegrini but then David Moyes came and we got in a situation where we were … like trapped together,” he told the Guardian.

“I was playing in a system that I didn’t really enjoy. Moyes preferred someone like [Michail] Antonio up front, and I’m super happy he [Antonio]’s doing so well; I am for all the guys at West Ham.

“I had a good time there with them but I was also really mad at the situation, [with] the way we were playing, the way I was playing, the way I was feeling.

“I don’t want to blame David.

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“Sometimes a style of play doesn’t suit a player and I wasn’t the striker he needed. And I also wasn’t his signing.

“If you bring in players [as a manager] that cost money for the club, you need to show that you didn’t make a mistake.”

Just as West Ham and Moyes are happier with Antonio, Haller is certainly happier with Ajax. The Ivorian has been a man transformed with the Dutch side, already scoring 42 goals in 52 games across all competitions, saving a handful for the Champions League.

There are a number of players whose name will come to mind when you say Mr. Champions League. Probably the most likely is Cristiano Ronaldo, but the likes of Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski and even Erling Haaland recently have made the Champions League theirs.

Haller can definitely count himself among those players too, breaking all sorts of records so far this season. The Ivorian had the most goals scored by a Champions League player in their first two games in the competition, first five, first six and first seven – with his strike against Benfica his 11th already this season.

Haller is just the second Ajax player to score 11 goals in a single European campaign, including qualifiers, joining Ruud Geels who did so for the club in the 1975/76 season. He’s also the fifth player to score in at least seven consecutive Champions League matches.

And he even managed to find the net before he actually scored, equalising for Benfica after Dusan Tadic had given Ajax the lead, inadvertently directing Jan Vertonghen’s cross into his own goal. But that will not take away from his goal in the right net.

In the Champions League alone this season Haller has already scored more times than he managed in 48 Premier League appearances for West Ham, and you can count on him adding even more in the return leg next month.

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