Sebastien Haller scored the winning goal as Ivory Coast won the Africa Cup of Nations and his former manager Erik ten Hag reached out to congratulate the forward on his success
Erik ten Hag has revealed how he contacted Sebastien Haller on Sunday night to congratulate his former striker for scoring the goal that made Ivory Coast champions of Africa.
The Manchester United boss worked with Haller at the start of his career in charge of Utrecht and later signed him for Ajax. And the Dutchman became a big source of personal support to the player when he was winning his battle with testicular cancer a couple of years ago.
When the former West Ham forward scored the historic winner for Ivory Coast in their 2-1 victory over Nigeria in Abidjan, the Dutchman was watching on television just hours after he had guided United to a vital Premier League win at Aston Villa. Ten Hag admitted it was an emotional moment.
He said: “I had direct contact with Seb on Sunday night after the final. There has also been frequent contact during his period of illness. I tried to support him as much as possible. Of course, he had only been away from Ajax for a fortnight when the illness was diagnosed. For me too, that was a huge blow.
“A sportsman in the prime of his life with a young family of three children and then such an illness. The way he dealt with it deserves great respect. He did not flee in anger but accepted it immediately and took everything he could to improve his chances of recovery and be resilient.
“He has fought his way back tremendously and then it is great that this is now followed by such a well-deserved sporting highlight.” Haller was told he had cancer in July 2022, just weeks after joining Borussia Dortmund from Ajax. He moved to the Amsterdam club in January 2021 after an 18-month spell with West Ham following a £45million move from Eintracht Frankfurt.
But the striker has never forgotten the role Ten Hag has played in his career and the pair kept in touch when the striker was undergoing extensive chemotherapy treatment to beat his disease. He returned to action with Borussia Dortmund last season – only to miss a crucial penalty in a 2-2 draw with Mainz on the final day of the season which cost his club the Bundesliga title.
Ten Hag said: “This highlight is so much to Seb’s credit after everything he has been through. His story is of course super emotional. From a sporting point of view, it was difficult for him. Last year he missed the title with Borussia Dortmund and missed a penalty in the decisive match.
“That he then is now an African champion is great. Seb is a fantastic personality, a real team player. That attitude doesn’t suit a striker, but that’s how he always sets himself up. He is modest and humble, just a great player to have in your squad.
“And he radiates calmness and tranquillity. You can see that in his game. He is imperturbable and therefore able to score such a decisive goal at such an important moment in difficult circumstances.”
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