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Andrew Thompson writes a detailed Scout Report about Utrecht’s gifted striker, Sebastien Haller.
France is unquestionably one of the centers for development football, and rightfully so. In my lifetime players such as Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Lillian Thuram rose to the very highest level of the game – well, in truth, they were the best in the business in their positions during their prime. There is currently another crop of French players who have the potential to reach those same heights through the likes of Anthony Martial, Kingsley Coman, Aymeric Laporte, Paul Pogba and Ousmane Dembele.
Though the Gallic nation remains in the conversation in regards to who has the best youth set up in Europe, there is one issue that has plagued the national team for the past few years – the question of who should be playing center forward.
At current, France’s options through the middle are Olivier Giroud, Andre-Pierre Gignac, Kevin Gameiro and Alexandre Lacazette. The problem here is two-fold: First, all but Lacazette on that list are pushing thirty or already at that mark, and second, the effective freezing out of Karim Benzema from the national set up has stripped the team of an excellent option…arguably their best.
With all but Lacazette (and maybe Griezmann, depending on how he is deployed moving forward post-Euro 2016) over the age of thirty-two after the 2018 World Cup, there is one player who seems to be ready to fight for a place in the French set up through the middle – Sebastien Haller.
Born in the Parisian suburb of Ris-Orangis in 1994, Sebastien Haller began his footballing education in 2003 at the age of nine with FCO Vigneux, where he remained for two years before moving to Bretigny Foot. After a second two year spell, Haller made a massive jump to Ligue 1 side AJ Auxerre, a club well known for their youth development setup and who at the time were responsible for producing Djibril Cisse, Philippe Mexes and Bacary Sagna, while also applying the final brush strokes to the development of Abou Diaby.
Talent Radar Accolades:
Now at a club of youth prominence that could help him push on to a higher level, Haller went on to spend five seasons at youth level in the Burgundian city, breaking into the French youth set up at U16, U17 & U18 levels during that period. After signing his first professional contract in the summer of 2011, Haller won full promotion to the Auxerre first-team the following campaign, and in his first season would see him make eight total appearances while scoring twice. The 2013-14 season saw him entrusted a little more by then manager Bernard Casoni, and he went on to make eighteen appearances in all competitions as well as netting on six occasions. It’s worth noting that during this period, Haller also climbed further up the French ladder, making a total of fourteen appearances for the French U19’s, U20’s and U21’s from 2012 to 2014.
A change of scenery was on the horizon for the big center forward however, when Dutch Eredivisie side FC Utrecht brought him to the Stadion Galgenwaard on-loan for the second half of the 2014-15 season. It was a move that Haller used to springboard himself into becoming arguably the best (traditional) center forward in the Netherlands to date. Eleven goals in seventeen appearances for Utrecht (as well as being voted Utrecht’s Player of the Year) prompted the club to purchase him outright during the summer of 2015 for a mere 640k Euro. With their faith firmly placed in the youth French forward, Utrecht would go on to finish fifth in the league with Haller registering nineteen goals and five assists in thirty-seven Eredivisie appearances.
He has picked up right where he left off last campaign, already scoring four goals in six domestic outings at the time of writing. Just what kind of player is Sebastien Haller? Let’s take a look.
Standing a robust 6’2, Haller is the ideal centerpiece for Erik ten Hag’s brand of possession football. Utrecht do prefer to play with the ball (this season they average a shade under 54% possession), but unlike a side like Arsenal who more or less try to walk the ball into the net, Utrecht use Haller through the middle as the pivot to either create chances in and around the area, or as a station along the through ball route that often ends up down one of the flanks – this style very much suits his strengths.
Possessing top-notch aerial ability (averaging 5.4 aerial duels won per match over the course of his career in Holland), quality when holding the ball up and adept at flicking on for a teammate or playing a diagonal through ball into space. Haller can be compared to Olivier Giroud in many respects (for those of who you have not seen much of him). Where Haller surpasses the aforementioned French stalwart is in technical ability and his efficiency in the box when presented with a scoring chance. Good with the ball at his feet in tight spaces and ruthless when given even a centimeter in space more than he should, he’s very much a complete center forward by today’s standards – he even chips in on the defensive side of the ball when required, but much of that could be down to Utrecht’s struggles when they are not in possession. With thirty-four goals in sixty league appearances, a shot accuracy of 57% (just for a benchmark, higher than Harry Kane and Gonzalo Higuain this season) and attempting fewer than three shots/ninety minutes, Haller more often than not will convert a high quality chance that comes his way. Combined with the other aspects of his personal dossier, he’s a force to be reckoned with in the final third.
As we are only human however, there will always be negatives that come along with anything positive. Though there are very few glaring weaknesses in Haller’s game on the whole, one huge drawback to him as a player is that he relies too much on the support of others. Recent poor performances at home to AZ Alkmaar and FC Groningen lend weight to the notion that, despite Utrecht having more possession than their opponent, stout defending at the back and a focus on limiting the amount of opportunities and space allowed for Haller showed how easily he can be effectively removed from the overall match equation. Though he can still contribute in other areas to help his team, mainly in winning first-team headers or tracking back when Utrecht are defending, his traditional approach to the position means he’s unable to fend for himself in the mold of a Sergio Aguero or Luis Suarez when the going gets tough.
Talent Radar Accolades:
Named in our 2015-16 Young Player Eredivisie Team of the Season
Finished 5th in our 2015-16 Young Forwards’ Performance Rankings
Still and yet, despite the major drawback, Haller is only twenty-two and has plenty of time to find future growth at a position that is forever shifting with the times. There’s no reason he should change his overall style of play, but rather he should look to become more flexible depending on the ebb and flow of a match.
With forty-six goals in one hundred club appearances, along with twenty-one goals in forty-six appearances at all youth levels for France, Sebastien Haller is seemingly on the verge of another big leap forward. Short-term goals for this season will be to get Utrecht back on track after a woeful start to the league campaign that has seen them lose three and draw three in their opening six fixtures. Though his personal form has still been good, Haller must find ways to help those around him improve and become more consistent in the final third. Haller’s efforts last season were a major contributing factor as to why Utrecht had the best offensive numbers in the league outside of the top four, meaning both the player and the team as a whole are capable of much better.
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