AFCON Côte d’Ivoire: Why Sebastien Haller preferred the Elephants to France

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Africa Cup of Nations kicks off in Cameroon

By Alexis Billebault

Posted on Wednesday, 12 January 2022 15:45
Sebastien Haller joined the Ivorian national team in November 2020

Sebastien Haller, the Franco-Ivorian striker from Ajax Amsterdam was eligible for selection for the French national team. But in 2020, he has chosen to wear the Ivorian jersey.

Côte d’Ivoire will not participate in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar after also missing the previous edition in Russia.

The defeat they suffered in Douala on 16 November against Cameroon (0-1) in the second round of qualifying proved fatal for the Elephants, who are now hoping for success at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations. The tournament, which is currently taking place in Cameroon, and the 2023 edition, which Côte d’Ivoire will host, will change their fortunes.

The Ivorian national team is approaching these two priority objectives with one of the most impressive squads in Africa, joined in November 2020 by Sebastien Haller (8 caps, 3 goals).

A former Blue

The 27-year-old had already been a French international player several times at the youth level.

But Patrice Beaumelle, the French coach of the 1992 and 2015 African champions, succeeded in convincing the player who was then under contract at West Ham United (England): “I had proposed to him in 2020 to play for his mother’s country of origin. He was still eligible for selection for the French team. He had worn the shirt of Les Bleus, notably with the U-21s. I asked him to think about it. That’s what he did and he accepted. He didn’t make a choice by default.”

On 20 November 2020, for his first selection, Haller scored the second goal for Côte d’Ivoire against Madagascar (2-1) in Abidjan, in the qualifiers for the 2021 CAN. “Sébastien has easily taken his place in the team. He is a very professional boy, with whom it is easy to work, and his arrival is really an important contribution to the team,” continues Patrice Beaumelle.

Born in Ris-Orangis, in the Paris suburbs, Sebastien Haller was trained at AJ Auxerre, where he signed his first professional contract.

Vincent Cabin, the Burgundy club’s sporting director, expected the striker to become a French international. “As he had played for all the categories and had shone with the French Espoirs (the youth team, with 13 goals in 20 appearances), I think he had ambitions to play for the senior side. He was attached to the blue shirt, but I think he understood that there was strong competition in the Blues, particularly with the presence of Olivier Giroud, and that if he wanted to become an international and compete at a high level, Côte d’Ivoire could offer him that opportunity.”

Top scorer in the Champions League

In 2015, the striker, lacking playing time at Auxerre, was loaned to FC Utrecht in the Netherlands. He eventually stayed there for more than two and a half years, scoring 51 goals in 97 games. At the time, Sébastien Haller made little reference to the Ivorian national team.

However, one of his maternal uncles, Narcisse Tea Kuyo, the current president of the prestigious club Africa Sports in Abidjan, played for them in the 1980s. “He was looking to play for the French team, which was quite logical, as he was in the Espoirs at the time,” recalls Edouard Duplan, who has been playing in the Netherlands since 2006 and is also from Essonne.

“Before he arrived, I was asked to talk to him about the club and the city. We quickly got on well,” he said. He was a very good teammate, very professional, very ambitious. It was nice to be around him on a daily basis, he is a boy who likes to joke around. He is steeped in French and Ivorian culture. I had met his mother in Utrecht on several occasions. You could tell that he valued family, which I think is very important in Africa.

Haller only visited his mother’s home country twice during his childhood. But the Ivorian national team matches have allowed the current Ajax Amsterdam striker, who returned to the Netherlands after a golden patch at Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), where he scored 33 goals between 2017 and 2019, and a less successful one at West Ham (14 goals from June 2019 to January 2021), to make more frequent trips to Abidjan.

In the Elephants’ ranks, Duplan “hopes that he will have the same efficiency as with Ajax”. Since the start of the season, Haller has scored 12 times in the Dutch league and is the current top scorer in the Champions League (10 goals).

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

AFCON Africa Cup of Nations: Results and Fixtures list

The full programme of all the matches for the 33rd edition of the African Cup of Nations, which takes place in Cameroon from 9 January to 6 February 2022. Plus all the scores. Updated daily.

AFCON: Can Samuel Chukwueze help Nigeria beat Egypt?

Nigeria faces Egypt and the mighty Mo Salah in today's clash in the Africa Cup of Nations at 5pm Cameroon time. But Nigeria are no slouches in attack themselves; forward Samuel Chukwueze has been in form for both Villarreal and Nigeria.

Africa Cup of Nations a chance for Biya to unite Cameroon

Cameroon has not hosted the Africa Cup of Nations since the 1972. Optimists hope the goodwill generated by the tournament can be used to foster national unity, with the south west of the country still mired in violence.

Africa Cup of Nations: Andre Onana, Sebastien Haller, Bamba Dieng… Six players to watch

Here are six particularly promising players to watch closely during the 2022 African Cup of Nations: André Onana (Cameroon), Sébastien Haller (Côte d'Ivoire), Hannibal Mejbri (Tunisia), Bamba Dieng (Senegal), Saïd Benrahma (Algeria), Ayoub El Kaabi (Morocco).

CAN: Senegal’s Ismaïla Sarr is at the heart of a tug of war between Aliou Cissé and Claudio Ranieri

Claudio Ranieri, coach of the British club Watford, is still refusing to allow his Senegalese striker Ismaïla Sarr to play in the African Cup of Nations, which opens on 9 January in Cameroon. This attitude has been denounced by Aliou Cissé, the coach of the "Lions de la Teranga", but also by several high-profile African football players, including Samuel Eto'o.

Football: Eto’o angered about possible delay of AFCON

As reports claiming that the AFCON will be postponed circulate, Samuel Eto'o has expressed his exasperation. The former international football star has just been elected head of the Cameroon Football Federation and says he will “devote all his energy to ensuring that this African Cup of Nations is held.”

Football: Should the African Cup of Nations be held every four years?

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) supports FIFA's plan to hold the World Cup every two years, which could affect - for better or worse - how often the African Cup of Nations takes place.

Football: Cameroon starts countdown to Africa Cup of Nations 2021

Cameroon will be hosting the next Africa Cup of Nations, which is due to kick-off in January 2022.

AFCON in Cameroon: Why the stadiums remain empty

The exceptional atmosphere of the opening match of the African Cup of Nations has died down and the host country is struggling to fill its stands. Several obstacles have dampened the enthusiasm of the fans...

AFCON: Mali’s Adama Traoré – The TP Mazembe trampoline

Adama Traore of Mali, who now plays in Moldova, made his name during his long stay at TP Mazembe, from 2013 to 2018. The striker is also one of the big guns of his national team, which faces Mauritania on Sunday at the AFCON Africa Cup of Nations, held in Cameroon.

AFCON Cameroon: Can Vincent Aboubakar be a star at home?

Cameroon's striker Vincent Aboubakar, who scored both goals in the opening match of the Africa Cup of Nations against Burkina Faso (2-1), does not have the same aura as his illustrious predecessors Milla, Omam-Biyik, Mboma or Eto'o.

AFCON Ghana look to Partey after gloomy start

The national outcry at Ghana’s poor start, amplified by the 1-1 draw with Gabon on Friday night, has become entangled with a sense that the Black Stars' most expensive player, Thomas Partey, is once again failing to make the expected impact.

AFCON Algeria in must-win match against Côte d’Ivoire

Algeria will have to win against Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday in Douala if they want to extend their run in Cameroon, where they finished last in the group with just one point after two matches. If not, it will imitate the 1992 team, eliminated in the first round, two years after winning the CAN...

AFCON: Cameroon’s Patrick Mboma says ‘The Indomitable Lions are a pleasure to watch!’

Former captain of the Indomitable Lions (56 caps, 33 goals) and two times winner of the CAN in 2000 and 2002, Patrick Mboma is following with interest the performance of his former team.

Cameroon: What will happen to the stadiums after the AFCON?

Who will finance the maintenance of the stadiums once Cameroon's African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is over? Headed by Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, the powerful secretary-general of the presidency, the task force in charge of organising the African Cup of Nations has sent Paul Biya to begin a project for the management of sports infrastructures once the competition is over.

AFCON: Ibrahim Sangaré tipped to push Côte d’Ivoire to victory

With Ghana, Algeria and Nigeria all out of the tournament, and Senegal having stuttered unconvincingly in the group phase, Côte D’Ivoire seemed to be the most balanced of the bigger teams initially tipped to succeed. Much of that has to do with the midfield mix offered by Franck Kessie, Jean Michael Seri and – the least experienced of the trio – Ibrahim Sangaré.

AFCON: Cameroon, Gambia surprise, Morocco vs Egypt in quarter-finals

The round of 16 of the 2021 African Cup of Nations saw the favourites Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire fail to qualify, while Cameroon, Morocco and Senegal all qualified with difficulty. Gambia and Equatorial Guinea, for their part, eliminated Guinea and Mali.

AFCON Can Sadio Mané fire Senegal to the top?

Senegal's squad is slowly but surely making their way to the last four of the 2021 AFCON African Cup of Nations. They will first have to beat the surprisingly tough Equatorial Guinea in the quarter finals in Yaounde on Sunday 30 January.

AFCON: Salah inspires Egypt into semi-final showdown

Two decisive moments from Mohamed Salah were enough to propel Egypt into their 16th AFCON semi-final and send Morocco reeling on Sunday.

AFCON Senegal/Burkina Faso: Sarr VS Koffi, the battle of the semi-final

Brilliant and several times decisive since the beginning of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), the Burkina Faso goalkeeper Hervé Koffi will have a lot of work to do Wednesday evening against the Senegalese striker. And in particular Ismaïla Sarr, who scored when coming on as a substitute against Equatorial Guinea.

AFCON Cameroon/Egypt: Semi-final risks spiralling into a stagnant midfield battle

There is a risk of tonight’s semi-final shown between AFCON's two most successful teams degenerating into a stagnant midfield battle. If it does, much will depend on whether Mohamed Elneny or Andre-Frank Zambo Anguissa gains the upper hand.

AFCON Gambia: ‘We can be proud of our performance’ – coach Saintfiet

The Gambia participated in the first finals of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) in their history, reaching the quarterfinals. They were beaten but with not without a fight, by Cameroon (0-2). Tom Saintfiet, the Belgian coach of the Scorpions, spoke about their surprising journey and the experience of the Gambian team in the country of the Indomitable Lions.

AFCON: Senegal wins against Egypt in penalty shootout

After losing two finals, in 2002 and 2019, the Lions of Teranga became the African champions for the first time in their history, defeating the Pharaohs on penalties (4-2) following a 0-0 draw.

Sadio Mané, the decisive player in Senegal’s victory

On Sunday night, Senegal became African champions for the first time in their history after they defeated Egypt (0-0, 4-2 on aggregate). Sadio Mané, who was voted best player of the AFCON, played a key role. The striker of the Lions of Teranga lived up to his potential in Cameroon.