Will Still: The Englishman without badges who became a French football sensation

Will Still: The Englishman without badges who became a French football sensation

Footballing curiosity Will Still may soon be returning home after the coach parted company with Stade de Reims by mutual consent this week and is now being linked with managerial jobs across the English pyramid.

The Belgian-born Englishman has gained significant media attention during the early stages of his career after becoming the youngest manager in Europe’s top five leagues when he was appointed by Ligue 1 side Reims at the age of 30 in October 2022.

The fact that he didn’t have a Uefa Pro Licence at the time meant Reims had to pay a €25,000 (£22,000) fine for every match he was in charge but the success he was having ensured the club were happy to cough up the fee.

However, the 31-year-old has now departed the northern French outfit, with a club statement saying that “it was mutually agreed that the two parties would not continue the sporting adventure together next season” and that “Will Still and his deputy Nicolas Still would step down from their respective functions as of today.”

Still is a man in demand and is being heavily linked with the vacant job at Championship side Sunderland. He was high on Sunderland’s wish-list as they looked for a replacement for Tony Mowbray back in December but, after talks with his representatives, the Black Cats turned to former Rangers boss Michael Beale instead – who could be signed without a fee as a managerial free agent.

Beale lasted just two months and interim boss Mike Dodds has been in charge at the Stadium of Light since February, with the search for a permanent boss ongoing and Still’s newly-found free-agent status potentially working in his favour.

Will Still impressed during his time as Reims manager (REUTERS)

The coach is a boyhood West Ham fan and, with David Moyes seemingly on the way out of the London Stadium, he has been linked with the role although managing a Premier League side chasing European football would represent a significant step up and be a big gamble by the Hammers.

Still has previously expressed his desire to manage in England, stating during an interview with The Athletic in February that he would be happy to lead a Championship club and noting his inclination to return to the UK . “It’s just home,” he said. “I want to come home. I’ve been abroad all my life and I’ve been working in an environment that isn’t quite mine all my life. And I just want to come home.”

Born in Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium, to English parents on 14 October 1992, Still grew up near Brussels and voraciously consumed Premier League football as a youngster, as well as playing at amateur and semi-professional level.

It was the Football Manager computer game that inspired him to get into coaching and, at age 17, he began studying to become a coach at Myerscough College in Preston. Aged 21, he became a video analyst at Sint-Truiden and then took on a number of coaching roles at a variety of Belgian clubs, briefly becoming caretaker manager of Lierse at the age of 24 and then managing Beerschot for a short period four years later.

Still looks destined to return to England to manage a team (AFP via Getty Images)

After leaving Beerschot, he moved to Reims as assistant manager to Oscar Garcia and, when Garcia was sacked on 13 October 2022, Still took over as caretaker manager. Following an undefeated stretch of five games, the 30-year-old was appointed for the rest of the season and made headlines as the youngest manager in Europe’s top five leagues. He immediately took his side on a 19-game unbeaten run in all competitions, including a Ligue 1 record 17-match streak, and ultimately steered them to an incredibly creditable 11th-place finish.

Still has been keen to distance himself from the Football Manager link in recent times, pointing out that he also has plenty of real-world coaching experience, even though he has become something of a poster boy for a new generation of coaches who are worldly, multi-lingual and with no real background as a professional player.

Still told Sky Sports last year: “With the Football Manager thing, for example – people think I’m some spotty geek behind my computer that’s just been dropped in at Stade de Reims and is doing an unbelievable job. But I’ve been doing it for 10 years and the experiences I’ve accumulated or tried to accumulate have helped me and are still helping me today.

“People say ‘Oh, he’s got no coaching badges, no qualifications, he’s just played computer games!’ I went to university to study football coaching, I’ve got the highest level diploma you can get, for the moment, in football and I’m studying for the Pro Licence. I realise it’s a fun story and one that catches the eye. But I know also that people behind it all know somewhere deep down what the reality is.”

Still’s unique journey saw him quickly become a meme on football Twitter, even prompting a salty post from Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, who threw shade at the Englishman when posting about their own young manager Matthias Jaissle. “Red Bull Salzburg pay a £0 fine each time Jaissle manages because he has his UEFA Pro License,” they wrote.

Results stagnated slightly during his second season at Reims, with the team currently sitting 11th in Ligue 1 with a couple of games to go, but Still’s stock hasn’t fallen and he appears destined to manage in England sooner rather than later.

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