By Luke James.
Speaking ahead of West Ham’s trip to Stockport in the third round of the FA Cup earlier this month, David Moyes told reporters that the Hammers had not anticipated Ajax’s interest in their record signing, Sebastien Haller.
“I think that the Seb Haller situation was simply that we got an offer, we didn’t expect it, we weren’t planning to lose Seb this window,” Moyes said.
“He’s done great for us, he’s won a few games recently with his goals, so we wish him well.
“I think it’s a really good move for him to go to Ajax and if we didn’t take this offer now maybe we would not have got it at a later stage, so we just felt it was the right thing to do. But it certainly wasn’t planned.”
The Ivory Coast international is the latest player to leave the London Stadium departure lounge, joining Grady Diangana and Robert Snodgrass on the outs at West Ham, and Haller’s exit sees the club take a £25m loss.
Haller, a regular in David Moyes’ side this season, leaves West Ham as the club’s top scorer — albeit courtesy of goals in the early rounds of the Carabao Cup. The 26-year-old’s 14 strikes in 54 appearances failed to live up to lofty expectations formed during his impressive record in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt.
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Haller’s Premier League goalscoring record was not enough to deter the interest of Ajax director of football Marc Overmars. Comparing Haller’s arrival to that of Dusan Tadic, Overmars suggested the 6ft 3in forward is the perfect fit for the Amsterdam club.
“Tadic scored three goals at Southampton, but played in midfield, so to speak,” Overmars told Ajax TV.
“West Ham United is not a very attacking team. Here, Haller will always be close to the goal of the opposition with teammates around him.
“I think Dusan scored 25 goals in his first season with us. That is the dream scenario.”
Days after arriving in the Netherlands, Haller was thrust into action as a second-half substitute in Ajax’s 2-2 draw with PSV.
As noted by manager Erik ten Hag, the Ivorian’s impact was “immediate”, with Haller registering an assist in his first appearance for the club.
Minutes earlier, Haller was denied a dream debut goal by the linesman’s flag — his strike, correctly disallowed by the officials, showed the type of confidence he had lacked in the East End of London.
Buoyed by his positive start in red and white, Haller scored on his full debut versus FC Twente just four days later, and now has a goal and three assists from three games at his new club.
Unlike at West Ham, where he was often left isolated in Moyes’ deep-block 5-4-1, everything is set up for Haller to succeed in the Eredivisie. Not only is the 26-year-old now up against less stubborn defences, but he has also been reunited with the coach who got the best out of him at Utrecht.
Haller is the sixth-highest scorer in Utrecht’s history, and bagged 30 goals in 65 appearances under Ten Hag in central Holland — often a result of the Dutchman’s tactical preferences.
Haller burst onto the scene in the Dutch top-flight in 2015, bolstered by his positional awareness and ability to combine well with a strike-partner. Although he won’t have the same luxury in Ajax’s 4-3-3, where the forward will be supported in the final third by willing, intelligent runners from all angles.
Haller’s return to the Netherlands gives him the perfect opportunity to revive his natural talents: playing the role of a part-finisher, part-creator. In other words, Ajax will ask Haller to do the things that he has always been good at, in a system that suits him.
Over the first 15 rounds of the Eredivisie season, Ajax averaged 62% possession and over 22 shots per game, leading the league in both areas. With service from in-form wingers Quincy Promes and Antony, there is no doubt that Haller will have opportunities to find twine in the second half of the season.
Haller ended his West Ham career with a stunning bicycle kick against Crystal Palace. His quality was never the question but his deployment was.
West Ham wasn’t the right club for Sebastien Haller… and he still scored goals like this ⬇️
Based on his first couple of Ajax appearances, the 26-year-old is set for a great season in the Netherlands.pic.twitter.com/WT2NiDE7tT
— Luke James (@LukeJames_32) January 15, 2021
During his time at West Ham, Haller won more aerial duels (167) than he had touches in opponents’ penalty area. That statistic will flip in Amsterdam and the Haller of Frankfurt and Utrecht will re-emerge.
In the Johan Cruyff Arena, the Ivorian has found more than an office – Ajax looks set to become his philosophical home. Haller is back and Europe is on notice.
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