Sébastien Haller, the footballer who makes Ivory Coast dream


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Ivorian footballer Sébastien Haller, in Frankfurt, in May 2019.

“We are going to arrive in Cameroon with our teeth touching the ground, it’s a big African shock, we can’t wait! «  At the Radisson Blu hotel in Abidjan, where the Ivorian team took up residence during the international break, Sébastien Haller sets the tone for this decisive group D “final” for the third and final qualifying phase of the World Cup. football 2022, in Qatar. Tuesday, November 16, the Elephants will face the Indomitable Lions and a draw will be enough for them to qualify.

During the first leg in September, the Ivorian international scored his first double in the orange jersey, synonymous with a home victory against the Cameroonians (2-1). Two goals that confirmed his exceptional start to the season with Ajax Amsterdam, the biggest club in the Netherlands, which he joined at the start of the year against 22.5 million euros. The striker is currently the top scorer in the Eredivisie, the Dutch league, and especially the second in the Champions League behind Robert Lewandowski, favorite in the Ballon d’Or 2021. In each of these two competitions, he scored seven goals. .

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No doubt that this Tuesday evening, the 27-year-old center forward will have the spotlight of the Japoma stadium in Douala, shone on him. The Ivorian has often marked the spirits during important meetings. Scorer against Madagascar in November 2020 for his first selection with the Elephants, he recently burst the screen for his very first Champions League match by scoring a quadruple against Sporting Portugal. He is the first player to achieve such a performance since the competition overhaul in 1992.

 » It’s like a dream « 

Three European matches later, here he is already compared to Didier Drogba, whose record of six goals in a Champions League season he has just broken. “It is decisive. He is an attacker on whom the Ivory Coast will be able to count in the big meetings ”, had commented on the former international on Canal +. « To score so much in the Champions League, I could not imagine it, it’s like a dream », Sébastien Haller is still astonished.

His current form, he explains by his new Dutch life and his balance. « I play in a system that enhances me, a championship with a playing philosophy that I like, it’s very tactical, he analyzes. They help me adjust and I have more stability in my life, the kids are growing up, a lot of things make it work better right now. « 

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Born in Ris-Orangis, in Essonne, of a French father and an Ivorian mother, Sébastien Haller has played in all the young selections of the France team, but never in the seniors. He finally opted for the orange jersey just a year ago, on the proposal of the Ivorian coach, Patrice Beaumelle. “Of course if I had gone to the France team at 22 or 23, I wouldn’t be here today. But if I chose Côte d’Ivoire, it is because there are reasons. It is not a default choice ”, he said at the time.

In the footsteps of his uncle

In a few matches, the 1.90 m footballer transformed the Ivorian attack and gave hope to a whole people a few weeks before the next African Cup of Nations (CAN), organized from January 9 to February 6, 2022 in Cameroon. With him, the Elephants will appear as serious outsiders, behind Algeria and Senegal.

However, Sébastien Haller concedes it, he does not know his country of origin so well. “When I was young, I went there twice. It was difficult to come back for a lot of reasons ”, he says without directly addressing the crises experienced by the country in the 2000s, those of his adolescence. « Today, I take my marks with the country, I try to immerse myself in life here », develops those who grew up in a mixed cultural environment: “When you have a skin color that is mine, you necessarily identify. When I was little, I was told a lot about the country, the anecdotes, the family, the food, the music, it was a mix of all that, with parents proud of their origins. I took advantage of both cultures. « 

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His Ivorian family is closely linked to football since his maternal uncle Narcisse Tea Kuyo, close to Laurent Gbagbo, was a player and then president of Africa Sports in Abidjan as well as an Ivorian international in the 1980s. discovers very young in the Parisian suburbs, in cities where the round ball « Is obvious » and where he believes that fate chose him: « It fell on me, he said with humility. I was always grown up, I had a lot of qualities, it’s true, but above all I had a healthy environment based on pleasure, I was never put under pressure. « 

« I never look back »

He started at 9 years old in Vigneux-sur-Seine, where he was quickly spotted by the neighboring club CS Brétigny during an indoor tournament. Follows, at age 13, a detection by AJ Auxerre, the day his braces have just been tightened: « I’m going, I have a toothache, I play, I feel like I’m not good », relives the one who will finally join the training center. In 2011, he signed with the professionals in the Burgundy club after good performances during the Under-17 World Cup with the France team.

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Three years later, lacking playing time at Auxerre, he flew to the Netherlands, already, joining FC Utrecht, where he scored 41 goals in 82 games. Qualities as a finisher which enabled him to sign at Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), where he passed a course, then at West Ham United, a London club in which he lost his place, before bouncing back nicely at Ajax Amsterdam . « I consider that if I am there, it is because I made the right choices, I never look back », he assures.

Today, the hope it arouses is as great as it is new in Ivorian hearts. Seated in a maquis, Ange Michel and Elphege do not miss any of the big European posters of the weekend: “Chelsea, Manchester United and now, thanks to Haller, we are waiting for Ajax Amsterdam matches. This is the future Didier Drogba ”, they get excited. The comparison honors but does not panic the center forward with a calm and measured temperament: “It’s nice to be expected, to be compared to great players, it flatters the ego. But we will have to work hard to continue to follow these footsteps. « 

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