The tough streets of east London shouldn’t faze Sebastien Haller. At 6ft 3ins, West Ham’s new £45million man looks like he can handle himself.
But you’d understand if he felt at least a degree of trepidation about being a high-profile footballer in the capital.
Only last month Arsenal duo Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac were attacked by knife wielding maniacs in north London.
And if Haller was to look a little closer to home – Andy Carroll was ambushed at gunpoint by two men on motorbikes just yards from West Ham’s training ground just under two years ago.
Yet Haller appears totally unruffled. He has good reason too, owing to a traumatic few days in Holland.
The Frenchman explains: ‘Listen, I will tell you something. I was in Holland (when playing for Utercht), in a small village. Everyone said: ‘Oh, this is nice here’.
‘But it’s the only place people killed my car, people burgled my house.
‘It was so peaceful there, but it was the only place that has happened to me.
‘At the time my wife was pregnant. My sister was there, she was pregnant too. My niece was seven, she was with us and she was scared.
‘We all discovered the house together, it was a mess. My wife was so scared.
‘When people come to your place and do this, you don’t feel safe. Since that time we never slept in that house again.
‘We moved two days afterwards. So it is possible to get trouble everywhere. This is life.’ But Haller’s not bitter about his time in Holland. Spend some time in his company and you’ll soon realise he’s not one to dwell on any negativity.
He exudes cool as he conducts his first newspaper interview since arriving from Eintracht Frankfurt earlier this summer. They don’t call him ‘Coolbird’ for nothing.
‘I don’t know who made that (nickname) up, but I don’t get stressed too fast,’ he said.
‘I like to sit and watch people and look at what’s happening. I am not the guy who is everywhere. I am sitting and watching.
‘I am a lot in my own world sometimes. My family say I am somewhere else.’ That’s not to say Haller isn’t engaging as we address a range of issues from his youth spent as a judo champion, homesickness and his dislike of television.
But football’s never too far from the conversation as he relives the journey that’s taken him from the southern suburbs of Paris to the Big Smoke.
Haller said: ‘First I was at a club that was in the middle of nowhere. It was close to Paris but no-one knew of this club – but we had a collaboration with Auxerre.
‘After one-and-a-half years my club said to me: ‘You should go to Auxerre, a professional club, and see how it is.’
‘So when I got there it was like a big trial but I’d been to the dentist that morning and I had a big brace in my mouth. It was tight and I had pain in my mouth all day.
‘I had to play football and I was almost crying because I had so much pain.
‘Finally, after a few games they told me: ‘We’d like to get you for next season”.’
He’s come a long way since then. On Saturday, Haller makes his English football debut against Treble winners Manchester City.
‘What a s*** game to start with!”, Haller scoffed.
‘I said to myself: ‘I’ve gone there for a lot of money, now my first game is against City. Why?’.
‘There are better games to build your confidence, I think. Hopefully I will touch the ball.’ Haller, though, shouldn’t sell himself so short. Thirty-two goals in two seasons in Germany propelled him to the attentions of some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
Indeed, his capture for a club record £45million was viewed as a coup for West Ham. That comes with its pressures, of course.
‘People don’t really know but West Ham came to sign me one year ago. But it was not my time to go in England,’ Haller explains.
‘After six months in Frankfurt I wasn’t ready. I needed to play more games. I needed to show them what I can do there.
‘But now for West Ham, I am the biggest transfer. It really means something, when they pay an amount like that.
‘You know they really want to use you, they don’t say if you don’t perform after six months we will get you out.
‘People expect a lot from you. I have to say things like the price, I can’t do anything about. I have to keep doing the job I was doing, that is how I got this transfer.
‘This is how I got this career. I put pressure on myself, but I put pressure on myself because I like what I am doing.
‘I am lucky, I am happy in my life so I try to make it better.’
Life will become far better if he hits the ground running in the Premier League.
Haller, who is also eligible to play for Ivory Coast, cannot hide his ambition to play international football for France.
But he spoke openly about the internal difficulties international football brings for players with dual nationalities.
His team-mate Declan Rice was forced to make a similar gut-wrenching decision last season when he opted to play for England over the Republic of Ireland.
And Haller added: ‘I would like to play for France – but it is not easy and it is s*** to say I need to choose,’ said the forward.
‘People think it is because you don’t like the country (you don’t choose) but no, it is because we need to make a choice in life.
‘Me and my father are French and my mother is from the Ivory Coast. I am from France and the Ivory Coast.
‘That is what I say. You have to find your place and it is not always easy. But you have to make career choices.’
Hopefully, Haller’s most recent career choice turns out to be the right one.