For West Ham, getting someone to find the back of the net regularly has been a struggle for as long as we can remember, perhaps more so than any other club regularly present in the Premier League.
To put how bleak their track record at signing strikers is into perspective, the last time a player scored 20 more goals in England’s top-flight for them was Tony Cottee, back in 1986-87.
Since then (except for Teddy Sheringham’s Championship season in 2004-05), the club have really struggled to find consistency in the role, and it seemed to get worse after David Gold and David Sullivan took over in January 2010.
Twitter threads have been done on this already, but the fact a sporadically fit Andy Carroll is their top scorer in that period with 34 goals in 142 games says it all.
However, it seemed the club finally decided on putting an end to this miserable run this summer, first by going all out on attempting to sign Maxi Gómez from Celta Vigo.
Unfortunately for Manuel Pellegrini, the Uruguayan ended up at Valencia, which is when Sébastien Haller came into the picture.
For most, the name probably meant very little, as the 25-year-old doesn’t have a France cap and, perhaps even more surprisingly, never made an appearance in Ligue 1.
Compared to most, Haller, on whom West Ham eventually spent £36m, has had a rather unusual career trajectory, one filled with early health issues, frustrating periods and bold decisions most would be afraid to make.
By starting his career at CS Brétigny, around 25km south of Paris, the towering striker was hoping to follow in the footsteps of Jérémy Ménez, Patrice Évra and Mehdi Benatia, yet his first dive into the world of football (after briefly trying judo) saw him miss a whole season because of Osgood-Schlatter disease (or OSD).
More easily described as an ‘inflammation of the patellar ligament’, the complication tends to affect around 4% of people at one point in their lives, normally at a young age.
Once that went away, however, CS Brétigny put the youngster in the best position possible to succeed, tricking him into thinking he was just going to have a training session with Auxerre in Ligue 2, only to really send him to a trial, which he passed and was quickly offered a spot in the club’s youth academy.
From there, everything happened very quickly, including scoring 50 goals in a season at U14 level.
Comparisons to David Trezeguet quickly followed, and they were valid at the time, but the player has since evolved.
He told So Foot back in 2015: “I was compared to him because, at Auxerre, I didn’t like to defend. All I had to do was be a fox in the box, and wait for balls to come my way. I’ve always had that eye for the goal, which allowed me to have a head start in that department.
“I also really liked scoring nice goals. As I developed, I did end up learning you needed to get involved elsewhere and be useful in the team for other things.”
That realisation is what has helped Sébastien Haller stand out from the rest of the pack, especially during his time at Eintracht Frankfurt, where assists were nearly as common for the forward as scoring goals.
In an interview with Canal Plus early in the 2018-19 season, Haller was asked what his strengths were, and unlike other players in his position, his first answer wasn’t how good he was at finishing or his ability to find space.
He said: “To be physical, being able to keep the ball up, passes to others. I’m a striker, so also scoring goals, but I think [my strength on the pitch] must and does come via assists and putting others in the spotlight, and that’s how I manage to perform.”
During his last campaign for the Bundesliga side, Haller scored 15 goals and provided the final pass for nine others in 29 league appearances, following nine and four in 31 games the year before.
It hasn’t always been easy for Haller, however, notably at Auxerre, where he found out doing well in the academy doesn’t necessarily translate to automatic glory in the first-team.
In and out of match day squads, and with FC Utrecht knocking on his door in autumn of 2014, the player eventually decided to join the Dutch side after some internal reflection.
He told So Foot a year or so after joining: “Because my situation didn’t change, I decided to try something new. A new challenge. It didn’t bother me to leave my cocoon, my comfort zone. Because Auxerre were the club I grew up in, the status was different. At Utrecht, I arrived in a new club where nothing was a given and I needed to prove myself.”
It didn’t take him long to show what he could do, scoring four goals against Dordrecht in his sixth game, and eventually becoming a regular goalscorer for the Eredivisie side, ending his second half of the 2014-15 campaign with 11 in 17 games.
In fact, this desire to try something new is what has steered his career, and after a positive first season with Frankfurt, he made it known he was eyeing more challenges in the future.
He told Canal Plus: “I think I’m someone who has qualities that can fit in many leagues. Why not England? That’s a very good one, because I’m someone who loves to travel, so I have no problem with that whether it’s England, Spain or Italy.
“If I leave Frankfurt, it’ll be for something I believe in 100% and, I think, better. I want to play every game, so being a backup won’t make me happy.”
That ‘something’ ended up being West Ham, where he has started off in the greatest way possible: scoring three goals in his first three games.
While he didn’t find the back of the net in his first appearance (a 5-0 loss to Manchester City), two goals against Watford and one against Norwich followed, and there will be hope this form can continue going forward for everyone involved.
Not only will fans want him to finally get Tony Cottee off the record books, but Haller himself will want to impress as much as possible with a view of making the France squad at some point in his career.
Thankfully for him, there might be a ready made opening in the not-so-distant future, all depending on how long Olivier Giroud decides to keep on going for.
Much like the Chelsea striker, Haller has no issues sacrificing his goalscoring record to help others around him, an attribute that ended up being key for France on their way to winning the World Cup in 2018.
In fact, he told So Foot in 2019 about that exact role: “It wouldn’t bother me. When you play with Mbappé, Griezmann and everyone else, at one point, you have to be in the right conditions, so it’s just a matter of knowing your ability and know what you can do to help the team to work well.
“If we play tomorrow and I finish the game with 20 tackles, no shots, but we win, that doesn’t matter. It’s not always easy, I’ll admit, but with the national team, you aren’t representing yourself. It’s a whole country.”
Giroud failed to find the back of the net in Russia, and registered just the one assist (against Argentina), yet anyone who actually watched his work outside the box saw how vital he was in allowing those around him to shine for the greater good.
As for a possible first cap in the future, Haller’s words last season still ring true today.
He explained to Canal Plus: “Why not? People make me think about it more and more, so yeah, of course I’d want to, but I don’t know if that’s possible. It’s not up to me. I don’t have the cards in my hands.
“The only thing I can do is to perform this season and see what happens, but it’s not something that drives me crazy. As long as everything goes well on the pitch, that I do the work with my club, I have nothing to be ashamed of.”
And with the 2020 Euros just around the corner, West Ham fans should expect nothing less than maximum effort from their star striker, because he’s a man determined to get what he wants: “I can’t tell you if I’m close or not [to the France squad], but I’ll do anything to get that call up. It would be a nice reward.”