Sebastien Haller: Who is Borussia Dortmund's cancer-beating goal machine?
Sebastien Haller has outdone Lionel Messi, Erling Haaland and Cristiano Ronaldo in the UEFA Champions League, and after returning to the Bundesliga and overcoming cancer, Borussia Dortmund are hoping the former Eintracht Frankfurt forward can propel them up the table.
bundesliga.com takes a closer look at the colossal Cote d'Ivoire international forward.
Club: Borussia Dortmund
Country: Cote d'Ivoire (15 caps/4 goals)
Goals are football's most precious commodity, and Haller is currently one of the game’s most successful traders. In the 2021/22 Champions League season, he scored in all six group stage games for Ajax — a feat only previously achieved by Ronaldo with Real Madrid in 2017/18 — and he reached 11 goals in just seven appearances, a Champions League record, having moved into double figures in one game fewer than Haaland.
That was helped by a stunning four-goal haul on his debut in the competition, a remarkable feat neither Messi nor Ronaldo can boast of, and previously achieved by another former Ajax forward, Marco van Basten, when he featured for AC Milan against Gothenburg in 1992. "I still don't believe it. It's kind of a dream," Haller told UEFA.com. Many couldn't believe it either.
Watch: A look back at Haller’s time in Frankfurt’s fabled front three
That's because the 6'3" Haller was making his bow at European club football's top table in his mid-20s on the back of what had been an underwhelming spell with West Ham United in the English Premier League. Just 14 goals trickled down from 54 competitive appearances with the Hammers, a stat that left many scratching their heads in Germany, where Haller had scored nearly a goal every other game — 33 in 77 — for Frankfurt, teaming up to deadly effect with Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic in one of the most formidable frontlines the Bundesliga has seen in recent times.
That form mirrored what he had shown for Dutch side Utrecht, whom the rangy forward born in the Parisian suburbs had joined in January 2015 after coming through the ranks — but not impressing — at fabled French side Auxerre. He netted an outstanding 51 times in 98 appearances for Utrecht, and was reunited with his former boss there, Erik ten Hag, when he returned to the Netherlands in January 2021.
His Champions League exploits, which underpinned his tally of 47 strikes and 63 goal involvements in 66 appearances in Ajax's iconic red-and-white shirt, grabbed Dortmund's attention, only for a testicular cancer diagnosis to delay his debut. That came during his new club's winter training camp in Spain where — on his second appearance — he netted an eight-minute hat-trick. "It's the best feeling possible to come back, to score goals, to help the team," Haller told reporters afterwards. "I feel my body improving day by day, so it's the best thing I could imagine. Not only for me but also for the team, for everyone. I'll try to keep pushing like that, keep working together, and I hope I can be effective and useful for the team."
Watch: Haller’s road back from cancer
Plays a bit like: Didier Drogba
Born to a French father and Ivorian mother, you can see why Haller idolised Didier Drogba as a kid growing up close to Paris where his hero had also spent much of his childhood. Like Drogba, Haller has come to the fore relatively late in his career, and shares many of the on-pitch and physical traits that helped the former Chelsea man collect so much silverware during his career. Able to hold the ball up and defenders off thanks to a secure first touch and his bantamweight-boxer physique, Haller's haul of over 50 assists in some 350 senior games across his career also shows he possesses the selfless streak and ability to tee up others better placed to score. An all-round finisher with head and both feet, he even has a penchant for spectacular goals, as his 2017/18 Goal of the Year winner attests…
Watch: The best of Haller at Frankfurt
Did you know?
Haller was a France U21 teammate of Bayern Munich's Benjamin Pavard and the record Bundesliga champions' former midfielder Corentin Tolisso. All three started the last time Haller pulled on the dark blue shirt of his nation – as did Juventus' Adrien Rabiot and Paris Saint-Germain's Presnel Kimpembe – in a 1-0 win over Northern Ireland at the UEFA U21 European Championship in 2015. But he opted to represent his mother's roots, making his Ivorian debut on 12 November 2020 and scoring the winner after coming off the bench against Madagascar.
What they’re saying
"I get goosebumps seeing him back at training. We're just so happy that he's back. We all admired the fight he put in." - Dortmund teammate Marco Reus
"He was so positive, and through that, he gave use the responsibility of also being positive." - Dortmund coach Edin Terzic on Haller's approach to his cancer diagnosis
“A bulldozer couldn’t knock him over!” - His former Frankfurt coach Niko Kovac
"Seb is incredibly good in front of goal. He's not only physically strong and extremely aggressive in challenges, but he's also ice cold in front of the opponent's goal." - His former Utrecht and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag
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From his cancer diagnosis to scoring his first Bundesliga goal for BVB, it's been an emotional seven months for the striker.