Sebastien Haller: Was West Ham’s record signing unusable or unused?

Sebastien Haller of West Ham United. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Sebastien Haller of West Ham United. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /
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Central to the Haller debate is the system. I know, here we go again –  change the record, please. However, the way West Ham – or rather, the way Moyes wants West Ham to play – does not suit Haller’s style and that’s a fact.

"“I always want to score goals, but I’m a team player first and foremost.” – Haller [Bundesliga Website]."

First, in a 5-4-1 or 4-5-1 formation – Haller is cut an isolated figure.  Regardless of whether you like Haller or not – or value his ability – you have to admit that playing upfront on your own is vastly different from playing with a partner. To put it simply, it’s harder work.

When you play one up top you need a workhorse. This is why Moyes has often decided to re-train a midfielder to become the focal point of the attack; someone like a Michail Antonio or Marko Arnautovic, who have the engine and strength of a midfielder – and can shoot a bit.

In Moyes’ system, West Ham doesn’t have the ball a lot – averaging just 41.2% this season. As a striker, this means you often have to settle for doing a lot of running. Mostly, off the ball and without any purpose or any end result. You just chase the ball between centre-backs and then watch them pass it around you with ease. Perhaps, turning and frustratingly finding your teammates have already dropped twenty yards into their shape – and you’ve just run about for no apparent reason. It’s exhausting.

Clearly, what doesn’t help Haller is that West Ham fans value off the ball work more than anything else. I mean why not – a player should give 100% all the time. Just look at the praise Leeds get for running a bit.

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If you look at the players West Ham fan’s generally praise – it’s the workers. Antonio, Mark Noble (a few years ago) and Thomas Soucek. The grinders, the battlers, those with the ‘never say die’ attitude. Rice, Coufal are those who spring to mind.

Only on certain occasions do the Hammers contingent make an exception. Payet had a bit of freedom. I think Benhrama (whose work-rate hasn’t been great) has been afforded time because of the quality he possesses.

Now, Haller never got that chance, but why? Perhaps, most Hammers didn’t watch much of him before his move to West Ham and didn’t give him the luxury of a few bad games.

For example, most West Ham fans saw a lot of Benhrama at Brentford – as the Championship is more widely available than the Bundesliga in the UK. Haller’s potential was always going to be underestimated after a few abject performances – because as fans, we hadn’t seen much of him to warrant any other comment than “he’s overpriced” and “he’s lazy”.

"“Haller, obviously gives you a bit more strength up front. He can hold the ball up, he’s big, and he showed his quality today.” –  Frankfurt teammate, Jonathan de Guzman."

West Ham signed a support striker to play on his own; a player whose greatest skill was bringing others into the game was left with no-one to pass the ball to.

In fact, when Moyes put Antonio up-front alongside the 26-year-old, Haller came alive and West Ham played some of their best football of the season. It wasn’t a coincidence.

Perhaps, this is an excuse. But, if you don’t think it is different playing as a one versus as a two up front, just look at Arthur Masuaku. As a left-back, it is a disaster. As a left-wing-back, King Arthur becomes the best player on the pitch. Now, both are interchangeable roles, but Masuaku, like Haller, is a completely different prospect when played in a system that suits his skills.

Haller was meant to be a focal point in a side that dominated the ball, but that changed when Pellegrini left. At present, the system that Moyes has implemented does not suit the 26-year-old’s style. It works for West Ham, but not for Haller.