Sebastien Haller says scoring a hat-trick is “the best feeling possible” after his treble for Borussia Dortmund in a friendly against Basel, having made his long-awaited return to action following a six-month battle against testicular cancer.
Haller, 28, was given the diagnosis shortly after signing for Dortmund in July 2022 on the back of a 34-goal campaign with Ajax. After feeling unwell during BVB’s pre-season tour of Switzerland, he underwent tests that revealed a malignant tumour.
The 6’3″ striker underwent two surgeries and chemotherapy in the ensuing months, before getting the green light to link back up with his teammates on their return to training on 2 January 2023.
“I feel good,” he told media at Dortmund’s winter training camp in Marbella, Spain, on 9 January. “Of course, it’s been a tough six months. I’m just happy to be here with the guys, to be able to train. So, yeah, it was not easy – but it was worth it. It’s my job, it’s also the thing I love the most – to play football – so I had to stay fit.”
And the very next day we finally got to see Haller in a Dortmund shirt as he came on for the final 15 or so minutes of the team’s 5-1 friendly win over Fortuna Düsseldorf.
“It was a great moment,” Haller told journalists after his debut. “I got a lot of applause, I got a lot of messages. Finally, after six months, I was looking forward to playing. When you sign up for a club, you want to play direct. Now I hope I will play games.
“It’s a way better feeling than running in the forest. This feeling was missing for the last months. That’s why I want to be on the pitch for the rest of the season, to play as many minutes as I can and stay fit.”
When asked whether he could in fact feature in Borussia’s opening Bundesliga game of 2023 against Augsburg, the striker was hopeful but stressed: “Participating is one thing, but being useful for the team is something else. I need to be sure I can help them and bring something.”
Well, Haller could bring goals after he finally scored his first for the club away from the training ground. He got three in the space of eight seven minutes, tucking away a penalty, then a Julian Brandt cross and finally a corner as BVB saw off Basel in their second game in Spain on 13 January.
“It’s the best feeling possible to come back, to score goals, to help the team,” Haller told reporters afterwards. “I feel my body improving day by day, so it’s the best thing I could imagine. Not only for me but also for the team, for everyone. I’ll try to keep pushing like that and keep working together, and I hope I can be effective and useful to the team.
“The fact that everyone celebrated my goals with me shows the spirit of the team. A lot of things can happen on the pitch but we don’t forget that we are all humans and that it’s really important for us to stick together, to show that everyone counts. They came to me because they knew it wasn’t an easy situation and also because for a striker to come back and score goals are the best feeling ever.”
Terzic echoed those sentiments after the final whistle: “You could see how much good it did him to score the penalty, and the way the boys were all so happy for him after his first goal… those are the kind of things that make it feel easier on the pitch. You could also see the quality he has in the opposition penalty area.”
Dortmund skipper Marco Reus also hailed Haller’s comeback, suggesting that the former West Ham United forward could make a significant difference when he eventually returns to competitive action.
“I get goosebumps seeing him back at training,” Reus said during the 1997 European champions’ January training camp in Marbella. “We’re just so happy that he’s back. We all admired the fight he put in. And how he made it back – he showed incredible mental strength. It’s really impressive. And you can see it every day – he takes a full part in the training.
“He still has a bit of catching up to do but he’s pulling it off. It’s a lot of fun to be back on the training pitch with him because, in the long run, he also gives us a new option that we maybe don’t have in our game yet.
“But it would be good if we could all stay calm and give him time. It will still take a while for him to find his rhythm.”
“Sebastien’s comeback was fantastic,” added Dortmund’s USMNT midfielder Gio Reyna. “We’re delighted he’s back. He’s such a good guy, he works hard, and you can see his quality on the pitch. He gives our game something new.”
Haller joined Dortmund after a record-breaking season with Ajax, during which he finished with an Eredivisie-leading 21 goals. He also ended up third in the UEFA Champions League scoring charts behind Karim Benzema (15) and Robert Lewandowski (13) after scoring 11 times during Ajax’s run to the round of 16.
The Cote d’Ivoire international previously enjoyed a 33-goal spell in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt (2017 to 2019).