Sébastien Haller: Ajax's Champions League top scorer in the spotlight
Wednesday, February 23, 2022
"A bulldozer couldn't knock him over!" said one former coach, but can Sébastien Haller be dislodged as top scorer?
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The top scorer in the UEFA Champions League after a remarkable debut campaign, Ajax's Sébastien Haller has been commanding attention all season.
2021/22 UEFA Champions League top scorers
11: Sébastien Haller (Ajax)
9: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern)
8: Mohamed Salah (Liverpool)
7: Christopher Nkunku (Leipzig)
6: Riyad Mahrez (Manchester City)
6: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
The 1.90m-tall 27-year-old was reportedly Ajax's most expensive signing ever when he arrived from West Ham last winter, and he has kept breaking records as the Dutch champions won all six of their Group C games, finishing nine points clear of their nearest competitors. He then picked up from where he left off in the round of 16 first leg draw with Benfica. UEFA.com checks out the Ivory Coast international's back story.
What has he achieved?
• Became the first player to score four on his UEFA Champions League debut (in the 5-1 Matchday 1 success at Sporting CP) since Marco van Basten got all of AC Milan's goals in a 4-0 defeat of IFK Göteborg in his first match in the inaugural competition, in November 1992. "I still don't believe it. It's kind of a dream," Haller told UEFA.com.
• Tops the 2021/22 UEFA Champions League scorers rankings with 11 goals, two more than Bayern's Robert Lewandowski. Erling Haaland scored ten last season when he ended the competition as top marksman.
• Became the fastest player to reach 11 goals in the UEFA Champions League, in only seven games.
• Scored in all six of his group stage games; only Cristiano Ronaldo, with Real Madrid in 2017/18, had done this before.
"Given the class of Sébastian, I am not surprised he is of interest [to other clubs]. All I can say: he will cost a lot of money."
Erik ten Hag, Ajax coach
"Haller and [team-mate Andreas] Ludwig took kickboxing lessons with me in Amsterdam. We had a great time. And that shows what kind of person Haller is. If he likes something, he can try it. He immediately bought gloves and the necessary equipment."
Myenty Abena, ex-Utrecht defender
"He always scores. Since January, when he came to us [from West Ham], his statistics have been phenomenal."
Erik ten Hag, Ajax coach
"He is more skilful than he looks. I don't want to compare him to Zlatan Ibrahimović, but he is as tall and has those athletic qualities."
Ruud Boymans, ex-Utrecht forward
"A bulldozer couldn’t knock him over!"
Niko Kovač, former Eintracht Frankfurt coach
How did he get here?
• Raised in Ris-Orangis in the Paris suburbs, Haller's Ivorian mother and French father initially pushed him towards judo, but their son decided football was to be his game.
• An international at all under-age levels for France, Haller came through the ranks at Auxerre, but found his goalscoring feet in the Netherlands with Utrecht, scoring 51 goals in 98 games in all competitions for the Domstedelingen (Cathedral Citizens) while playing under current Ajax coach Erik ten Hag.
• Joined Eintracht Frankfurt in 2017, helping the club to win the German Cup in his first season. He scored 33 goals in 77 matches in all competitions for the Bundesliga club before West Ham signed him in the summer of 2019. Frankfurt boss Niko Kovač nicknamed him "Cool Bird" for his calm demeanour.
• Goals were harder to come by in England, and he joined Ajax in January 2021, former director of football Marc Overmars saying: "West Ham United are not a very attacking team. Here, Haller will always be close to the goal of the opposition with team-mates around him."
• Haller scored 11 goals in 19 Eredivisie games last season, but did not play for Ajax in the UEFA Europa League because the club did not register him to take part.
• Haller has been scoring at an impressive rate in the Eredivisie this term and is on target to match his best ever goalscoring season, when he hit 24 for Utrecht in all competitions in 2015/16.
• Ajax take on Benfica in the UEFA Champions League round of 16. Haller was on target in a 2-2 draw in the first leg in Lisbon, where he scored those four goals against Sporting CP on Matchday 1.
"When it came to penalties in tournaments [as a child], I usually went in goal. I was one of the biggest players and had very good reflexes. We won some tournaments thanks to me, but I was always happier when I was allowed to play outfield. Luckily, I scored enough goals or I might have played as a goalkeeper more often."
"I always stayed in contact with [Erik ten Hag]; we spoke because we had a good relation before in Utrecht. When I knew that the deal [with Ajax] was possible, I was happy. I just had to be patient."
"A football team is like a puzzle: the pieces have to fit together. At West Ham United, it was not quite right for me. I was not the right part. No matter what I tried, it didn't work. But at Ajax, the coach knows me well and I know what he wants."
"As a striker, it's the best feeling to score in the best competition you can play in."
"Of course I didn't expect [to score ten times in the group stage], especially in my first games. The only thing you want to do is perform well and be in the flow of the game. Ten goals was not in my dreams."