After a decade of trying and failing to find a reliable striker, West Ham’s pursuit looked like it might have been over when they signed Sebastien Haller for a club-record.
Signed for a whopping £45million on a five-year deal, Haller looked like a certain hit for West Ham after banging in the goals for Eintracht Frankfurt, playing a key part in a DFB-Pokal win and a Europa League semi-final run.
Haller was verging on a call up to the French national team, and moved to the Premier League for more exposure but, after just a season-and-a-half at the London Stadium, he was out the door.
Nearly a year on from Haller’s move to Ajax for half of what West Ham paid for him, things couldn’t be any more different.
Now an Ivory Coast international, he is beginning to look like he’s worth every penny of West Ham’s club-record fee, dominating the Eredivisie for Ajax, as well as lighting up the Champions League.
His start to life in Europe’s premier club tournament has been so good he’s out-scored the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland, sitting top of the Champions League’s goal charts, netting five times in just two games.
No player has ever had such a goal-laden start to life in the competition.
Dutch champions Ajax took on Portuguese champions Sporting in their European opener, with Haller slotting home four times to join an elite list of 15 players to score four or more goals in the history of the competition.
Next up were Turkish champions Besiktas, and Ajax prevailed once more, netting again in the 2-0 win, with Erik ten Hag’s side looking just as good as the team that he built for their 2019 Champions League semi-final run.
Domestically, things are just as impressive, with Haller nearly matching his number of games played with goal contributions, scoring 16 times and assisting on seven occasions in just 27 Eredivisie appearances.
The contrast between Haller’s West Ham form and what he is displaying at Ajax is stark, but it’s easily explainable as one well-known Ajax fan told us.
“Sebastien Haller is a strange story, because when you see him play you will think ‘Hmm this guy is not so good at football’,” he said.
“But on the other hand he is an amazing goalscorer and he is extremely productive for Ajax.
“In the league he has been amazing from day one, he has been assisting, scoring and he has done so until now.”
Haller managed 14 goals in 54 games for West Ham, a better rate than other Hammers signings like Andy Carroll and Javier Hernandez, but not enough for the club to decide against cutting their losses.
Yet as each Ajax game passes, it’s becoming increasingly clear that West Ham misused their record signing, which is easily explained from the Dutch perspective.
“At West Ham he was more like a lantern post, they just put him up front and they put him on an island and they threw long balls at him,” talkSPORT was told.
“That does not work with him because he doesn’t have the technical ability to do anything far away from the goal, he can’t dribble well, he’s not very fast, he has no skills.
“So what needs to happen is you need to build a team around him with lots of movement and lots of depth on the wings, and you need a creative number 10 behind him.
“And when you do that a lot of space opens up and he will get his chances every game and he’s a good finisher, that’s a good aspect, he will finish chances.
“At Sporting two weeks ago he scored four goals because we were attacking, attacking, attacking and we have so much movement and creativity in the team that he will always get his chances.
“That’s the big difference with West Ham, because over there he wasn’t used like that and that’s the reason he’s so successful at Ajax, because we have a very creative and attacking team, and as a striker that’s just heaven because you will get so many chances every game.”
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