Interview: Sébastien Haller, Borussia Dortmund

Image Credit ( Bundesliga Content Hub Images)

How did you find your way to football, as a small boy?

“I don’t know if there is a moment that football started with me. You know, we all grew up with the balls around and we played football like we were born with it, you know. With one of my oldest friends at home and I, for example, was always talking about football. It was every day, after school, at school, at home, everywhere. So, for us, it was not even a question about what football means or where or when it came from. It was just football is football, you know, you play football all the time because this is what brings you joy.”

Are you still in contact with people from back then?

“Yes, I have friends from since I was just five years old, like neighbours or even guys who used to play in the academy, or some guys that I had been with at the professional clubs along the way. I remain in contact with some of them, yes.”

How was your path to football?

“I think because we love football, we were playing everywhere and of course the coaches from our town came to us, saying: “Yes, you need to play football. You need to come to the club.” Then it comes like that. You just play, then you see some adults say that yeah, you’re quite good at football. So, you attend this tournament, you win some games, you score goals and all of a sudden, there is another club that comes to see your parents: “It would be good for him to come to our club.” You just follow, you come, you play games, and tournaments, and then you receive a call: “It would be nice if you would come and see our academy.”

Actually, I didn’t know it was a trial at Auxerre. So, I thought it was just going there to see the level and play with the guys. So when I arrived, I saw 100 hundred kids ready to fight for their chance. At that moment I was like “Okay, today is a big opportunity.” Out of nothing, you see the guy from the academy coming to your parents saying: “It would be nice if your son joined the club.” So, it came really quickly and out of nothing. So, I didn’t have a lot of questions in my mind. I just followed the movement, I played. It came quite fast – I joined Auxerre when I was 13 and I was 17 when I signed my first contract. So, after four years of just playing football every day, I was in a welcome family then at the academy, like a boarding school, you know, it came really quickly. So not a lot of questions in my mind.”

How was it for your parents to let you go back then?

“It was hard for them, I think, now that I am a parent, a father myself. I realise every day it is difficult to have your child go away from you, but know that he needs to chase his dream and you can’t handle the situation alone. So you need to trust him. You need to try to be there to help when he needs something. But I was not the child who said every day: “I need this. I need that.“ No, I was just playing. Everything was fine and I was happy to play football. But, yeah, I can understand that this is not easy.”

Did you ever have the feeling you were missing out on something – not having chosen the right path?

“No, no, this is the craziest thing. Sometimes I was wondering why, you know, I was not feeling bad. I don’t know. Maybe because I knew I was on the right path. Maybe because I knew that it was a crazy opportunity and I was just following the rules, you know, I wasn’t doing anything bad. I always just played quite well, and I knew that my parents were proud of me, even my brother and sister, my friends – I knew that it was the place I had to be. So, for me, it was no question, no doubt so even if things are not that easy – because it’s not always that easy – you know that you just need to face this challenge and try to fix the problem.”

How did your decision to play for the Ivory Coast come to be?

“I think I arrived at a moment of certainty in my life and career. I received a lot of calls from the coach of the Ivory Coast, but since I was really young, sometimes it’s difficult to explain but you’re just not ready to go. I was also playing with the French national youth team, and I didn’t feel it was the right moment for me to go. Sometimes we forget that this is a football career that we are speaking about. It’s way more complex than this simple decision. It represents a lot of things for me. I’m from both cultures. Even though I grew up in France, I also grew up with the Ivorian culture, of course, because my mum taught us a lot of things. France was everywhere because we grew up in France, so we knew what it looked like but Ivory Coast was through my mom, my cousin, my uncle, and a lot of members of my family. It’s a rich heritage, a rich legacy that is from my parents because you need to learn from both cultures, and you always take the best from it. So, it was really nice and at a certain point I wanted to represent Ivory Coast on the pitch because, you know, I tried to learn. I tried to contemplate what I really wanted to do.”

What does it mean to you to have a culture from two different nations?

“Everything but everything is half. Everything is both. You know, you try to – it’s like cooking, you know, you just put in some spices from France and some from Ivory Coast. You know, it’s a real mix and I’m really proud of it, you know, because I know that when I was young, a lot of people were asking me, yeah, where do you come from or why this, why that? And I was like yeah, I’m a bit different and not white, I’m not black. I am neither, I’m just between everything. You know, it’s not always easy to find your place or just tick a box or get a group. So you’re wondering about that a lot and at the end you just realise that oh, it’s just a mix of cultures and sometimes you need time to understand this. So no, everything I do, it’s with the mix of culture, of course.”

How would you rate the start for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga in 2023-24?

“Not the best out, of course. Even though we won the first game, we knew that the way we played was not the best and we could do so much better. Yeah, not the best start. Last season was not the best start either but we still managed to be to be challenging so yeah, I’m not worried about anything. It’s just a daily walk. We need to fix the few things that need to be fixed, and then we’ll see but it’s an everyday walk and everyone is trying to be better, but we have some goals, and we are Borussia Dortmund, so we need to fix everything quick.”

How do you feel, personally?

“I feel good, I feel really good. I feel way better than the last season so for me, it’s also a small victory. So, I try to take this with me to, you know, to perform better and help for my guys, for my teammates and just give the best to make them proud and to make it so that they can count on me. That’s it.”

How are you handling the lost Championship?

“Let’s say it’s still on my mind and it will stay forever but like I said, we always need to pull through and overcome every challenge. So, the best answer I could give to myself and to all the people that support me, and the club is to just move forward and get back to the job and score goals. That’s it. There are no options.”

Sébastien Haller in a tackle with Eric Martel during the match between Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln at Signal Iduna Park on 19 August 2023.