FEATURE | Sébastien Haller – can the Ivorian replace the goals of Erling Haaland at Borussia Dortmund?

Borussia Dortmund have announced the much-anticipated signing of striker Sébastien Haller from Dutch champions Ajax on a deal reported to be around €35 million. Seemingly a direct replacement for the vacated Erling Haaland, this is a transfer that feels sensible.

Question marks undoubtedly remain over Haller’s impugned quality, whilst debates have been instituted surrounding whether or not he is the man to take Dortmund closer to Bayern Munich and help deliver that elusive title that has for so long pervaded them. Though Dortmund feels like just about the right level and stature of club for a player like Haller, who has enjoyed a fine, albeit mixed career. So how will it all unfold and what can he bring to this Dortmund side?

Whilst it’s often easy to get bogged down in tactical intricacies and aesthetic subtleties, it’s firstly important to note that Haller will likely bring goals. Coming off the back of his finest goalscoring season to date, where he netted 21 times in 31 Eredivisie appearances, Haller drastically facilitated Ajax’s third consecutive Dutch title. As well as having relished in a fine goalscoring Champions League campaign, Haller has often scored relentlessly wherever he’s been. 15 goals in 29 Bundesliga appearances for Eintracht Frankfurt during the 2018/19 season clearly elucidates his ample ability, particularly in the Bundesliga.

Doubts inevitably arise over his static nature, though he’s a far more skilful player than is often given credit for, possessing the ability to link up sublimely with his teammates, hold up the play, and lead his team’s press from the front – despite popular suspicion over the latter.

It’s inescapably true that Haller did not set the world alight at West Ham, though his 10 goals in 48 appearances as part of a struggling side is not quite as appalling as is often made out. However, this was more of a problem of not suiting David Moyes’ system. Haller remains a classic in-the-box kind of striker, whereas Moyes often looks for his frontman to drop deeper and be heavily involved outside of the box. It’s probably reasonable not to read too much into Haller’s time at West Ham, given that his strengths were not exactly played to, and besides, he’s succeeded everywhere else he’s played.

Finishing is clearly Haller’s greatest strength, with his capture by Dortmund a seemingly exciting one, with the Bundesliga potentially offering the perfect environment in which the Ivory Coast international can flourish. Perhaps the best description of Haller’s game is that he’s a traditional striker; a goal scorer, and that’s exactly what Dortmund need.

Much has been written about the departure of Erling Haaland, with the loss of a world class player conceivably causing operable damage. A state of incertitude quickly emerged over where the goals were going to come from. Of course, Dortmund have also signed German prodigy Karim Adeyemi, after the youngster excelled in the Austrian Bundesliga with RB Salzburg, though he is not at all the same profile of player as Manchester City’s Haaland.

That’s exactly where the signing of Haller appears to fit nicely. Dortmund now have resplendent attacking options, with Haller and Adeyemi providing a pleasing mix and balance with their differing profiles. Haller certainly feels more like a direct Haaland replacement, with the former naturally emanating a greater sense of brutality as the powerful, physical striker who is just simply going to get on the end of things. Perhaps it will be Dortmund’s more creative players just behind the centre-forward role that will be the key to unlocking Haller’s potential, with the likes of Donyell Malen, Gio Reyna, Marco Reus and Jude Bellingham holding all the cards.

Nevertheless, despite Haller’s undisputed quality, no transfer comes without its uncertainty. At 28 years of age, this is a player that is not getting any younger, though by all means is certainly not past it. A fine player no doubt, but is he the absolute star quality needed to reel in the ever-ruthless Bayern Munich? Is he really the top-class marksman required to deliver the Meisterschale? Why were Ajax so content in letting him go, despite 13 goals in eight Champions League appearances for them this season?

This move seems like a career-defining one for Sébastien Haller. Flop now, and it’ll feel like a career falling just short of the highest level. Yet if this one works out, then for Dortmund he’ll turn out to be exactly what they’ve been so eagerly searching for, whilst simultaneously firing Haller himself into the upper echelons of striker. Having also recently been linked with Dortmund’s title rivals Bayern Munich, it would appear that Dortmund have done well penning down Haller’s signature, steering a potential Robert Lewandowski replacement away from Bavaria, ensuring their side is strengthened with his presence, whilst their rivals are not.

All in all, this feels like a fine acquisition for Dortmund as their everlasting quest to reclaim the Bundesliga title rumbles on.

James Westmacott


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