Football Features

Who is Sebastien Haller? Frankfurt’s “bulldozer” looks tailor-made for France (and maybe West Ham)

By Ben Green

Published: 17:05, 15 July 2019

Before his bumper move to Real Madrid, Luka Jovic was the name we closely associated with Eintracht Frankfurt last season, but former strike partner Sebastien Haller made substantially more noise than the new galactico.

Haller rose to relative prominence in 2017/18, but truly excelled in the Bundesliga last term, contributing to more league goals than any player in the Frankfurt squad, including Jovic.

The clinical finisher is, quite simply, a standard-bearer of traditional No 9s, a throwback centre-forward who has become a hallmark of Die Adler’s scintillating attack.

Under the guidance of Adi Hutter last campaign, the Hesse-based club reached the Europa League semi-final and finished a respectable seventh in the Bundesliga.

That was in no small part thanks to the involvement of Haller in the final third, with the Frenchman directly contributing towards 40 per cent of Frankfurt’s league output (15 goals, nine assists) – despite starting just 23 matches.

And although Frankfurt have already lost Jovic, the club’s attacking ranks could once again be plundered, with reports suggesting West Ham are in talks over a proposed £40m deal to bring the 25-year-old to England.

But what is the playing style of this French forward who outdid Jovic in the league last season and what will Manuel Pellegrini be expecting if a move does materialise? Read on to find out more…

Style of play

At 6 ft 3 in, Haller is something of an old school centre-forward, but he possesses qualities that far exceed the stereotype of his towering presence. At a glance, Haller could appear a rugby prop masquerading as a striker, but when the Frenchman takes to the pitch, it immediately becomes clear just how good he is with the ball at his feet.

Blessed with an eye for goal, power and exceptional link-up play, Haller could be classified as the complete striker: a player who can create a myriad of shooting opportunities for his teammates, but someone who also has a marked penchant for finding himself in the right place at the right time.

Haller’s hold-up play is also second to none, and one of the main reasons Jovic flourished at the Commerzbank-Arena last term, with the Frenchman laying it on a plate for him five times.

An ambipedal forward, Haller is also proficient with either foot, and such has been his rapid ascent that compatriot and Juventus legend, David Trezeguet, has even been name-checked as an appropriate comparison – the two clearly share similar traits, not least their near-identical frames – while former coach and current Bayern Munich manager, Niko Kovac, has previously described him as a “bulldozer”.

Humble beginnings

Haller began his career with Auxerre, initially emerging onto the scene as a talented 17-year-old tyro in the 2012/13 season, appearing 18 times but finding the back of the net just twice.

He found more playing time at the Stade de l’Abbe-Deschamps the following season, featuring 28 times, but the goals were still few and far between with just six across all competitions, and he would ultimately leave the comforts of his homeland for pastures new.

A successful loan move to FC Utrecht in 2015 yielded 11 goals in 17 Eredivisie appearances and prompted the Dutch outfit to secure his services on a permanent basis.

And it was here at the Stadion Galgenwaard, under the auspices of now Ajax boss Erik ten Hag, where Haller really started to attract attention and develop into a player of real substance.

He made serene progress in the Netherlands, scoring 40 goals across 81 appearances between 2015/16 and 2016/17, helping the club reach the KNVB Cup final in 2016, and winning the Di Tommaso Trophy award for Utrecht’s player of the year in 2015, encouraging Eintracht Frankfurt to eventually make a move for him in the summer of 2017.

Finding a home

There was some scepticism in the Rhine-Ruhr Region upon the arrival of Haller but he soon silenced the critics by scoring nine goals across all competitions during the first half of the 2017/18 Bundesliga season.

However, that purple patch wouldn’t last too long as he experienced a difficult Ruckrunde, netting just three goals after the winter break as Frankfurt finished eighth in the league, sparking rumours of a possible departure over the summer.

That considered, Haller attracted plenty of plaudits and admiring glances during his maiden campaign, helping the club clinch the highly-coveted DFB-Pokal, at the expense of Bayern Munich, as well as being awarded the Bundesliga Goal of the Year for his acrobatic scissor kick against Stuttgart – a sublime piece of improvisation…

As such, last summer’s managerial appointment, Adi Hutter, sought to retain his services and he went on to become a vital cog in the club’s devastating attacking triumvirate, alongside Jovic and Ante Rebic, proving himself a priceless commodity in German football, as the 25-year-old finished the joint-fifth highest Bundesliga scorer (15).

France call-up on the horizon?

Haller has already spoken publicly of his desire to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Thierry Henry, and don the famous blue attire of the France national team, but has he done enough to sway Didier Deschamps?

Fortunately for Haller, Deschamps has a propensity to deploy a more traditional centre-forward in his system, be it in a 4-3-3, 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, hence the prolonged inclusion of Olivier Giroud.

Kylian Mbappe has been largely utilised on the wing, Antoine Griezmann likewise, though the latter has often been stationed through middle either as the main striker or alongside Giroud.

But with Giroud’s ability significantly on the wane and a distinct lack of playing time under his belt, Haller could be the ideal, like-for-like, replacement ready to restore vibrancy and introduce a new dimension of physicality, as well as attacking prowess to the France XI.

As an archetypal No 9, Haller is perhaps the perfect Giroud replacement and someone who could assist both Mbappe and Griezmann, as demonstrated with his almost telepathic link-up play with Jovic last campaign.

Many feel that with Giroud entering his twilight years and not the force he once was, Deschamps may be tempted to tinker with his tactics and deploy a more neat and nimble forward through the middle. But why change an unbroken system?

Deschamps won the World Cup adopting this philosophy and would be foolish to shuffle the pack when a quintessential No 9 is staring him right in the face.

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Could Haller be the answer to West Ham’s striker prayers?

For years West Ham have been searching for that much-vaunted, much-desired, 20-goal a season striker, but have so far fallen flat on their faces.

Maxi Gomez became the latest high-profile forward to reject a move to the London Stadium, while Javier Hernandez hasn’t quite been able to demonstrate a capacity to score on a consistent basis in the capital.

And so, the Hammers have now turned to Haller, a player with all the tools to prosper in the Premier League, but what could he truly offer Pellegrini?

Well, in the Bundesliga last season, no striker assisted more goals (9) than Haller, while he also created the second-most big chances (13) and fourth-most key passes (35), showing his expert ability to link play.

The Frenchman also won more duels (291), as well as more aerial duels (201), than any Bundesliga forward, which is a testament to his work rate and physical stature.

In terms of his goalscoring ability, only Lewandowski (19) and Wout Weghorst (15) scored more big chances than him (14), though he does possess a better big chance conversion rate (58.33%), shot conversion rate (28.3%) and shooting accuracy (60.98%) than the Bayern striker, Jovic and Marco Reus among other big names. In layman’s term: give Haller a chance and he will likely score.

With the likes of Pablo Fornals now on the books in east London, as well as a return to full fitness for Manuel Lanzini, not to mention Andriy Yarmolenko and Jack Wilshere, Haller would have more than enough quality behind him to take the Premier League by storm and who knows, maybe even answer West Ham’s seemingly perennial striker conundrum.