Will Still, aged 30, is the youngest manager in Europe’s top 5 leagues having never played as a professional footballer, instead taking performance analyst, assistant coach, and youth coach roles at various clubs, whilst mastering ‘Football Manager’ on the side.
The English manager is on a 15-game unbeaten streak as head coach of Reims right now, and really is the man of the moment.
His highlights as Reims coach include holding PSG to a 0-0 draw in October, a 1-1 draw last Sunday, and a 7-0 victory against Loon Plage in the Coupe de France.
Still’s side only allowed Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr and co to score once across the two league fixtures, with Folarin Balogun scoring a 96th minute equaliser to snatch a point from the Parisians last Sunday.
Still’s brilliant personality and character has come out in interviews since the media have chased his success story at Reims, and one thing that we’ve learnt is that he learnt his trade playing Football Manager!
From ‘Football Manager’ to going head-to-head with Lionel Messi, what is Will Still’s story, and how has he transformed Reims?
Still was born in Belgium to British parents, and was football obsessed his whole childhood. The only problem was, by his own admission, he wasn’t the best with a ball at his feet.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Still explained: “I was a holding midfielder. I wasn’t the quickest, I can run about 100m in 10 days!”
“But I’d never stop running. People hated playing against me.”
Still realised that he would not make it as a professional footballer, so attended Myerscough College studying a degree in Football Coaching. He was also the assistant manager of Preston North End’s U14s team as part of his degree.
Still told The Coaches Voice: “I’d been obsessed with it [managing] growing up.”
“Me and my brother would play Football Manager relentlessly.
“We weren’t allowed a PlayStation, so we played FM on the family computer.
“We got into building a squad, picking a team, organising training, making sure the team was going in the right direction – all the details.
“I spent nights where you get to 10 o'clock in the evening, thinking, one more game, then you end up at 4 o'clock in the morning, I’m still at it,
“There was nothing better than that, even if it was all virtual!”
Still explained how he realises how realistic the game is now he works in the industry.
The West Ham fan would always begin the game in charge at Upton Park.
In 2014, Still was knocking on doors in Belgium, in desperate need of a job. He would tell people that he was ‘young’ and ‘no-one’ but asked if he would be any help at all as he had expertise from college and experience from Preston.
Sint-Truiden, in the Belgian second tier, took a chance on Still, mainly because he had played at their youth academy as a boy.
The 21-year-olds role was a tactical analyst, filming the opposition and analysing play styles. He even looked back to Football Manager’s database to scout out opposition players further!
By 2017, Still had moved on to Standard Liege with a similar role, and Lierse – both based in Belgium. He got promoted to the top job at Lierse, his first taste of real life, high stakes, and high-pressure management.
The 24-year-old questioned the board’s decision himself, saying that surely somebody that young couldn’t take the head coach role. He proved himself wrong, taking 21 points from a potential 27 and not just saving Lierse from relegation, but pushing promotion!
Will Still – after proving that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough – moved to the Belgian FA and Beerschot before his job at Reims in Ligue 1.
Now at 30 years old, Still is studying his UEFA Pro License alongside being the head coach of Reims in the topflight of France. Defying all odds, since coming into his role, he has taken the relegation-threatened side on a 15-match unbeaten run.
The manager comes at a cost though, as due to not having a UEFA Pro License, the club suffer losing £25,000 in fines every fixture.
Still has joked before that the board have told him that they’re ready to invest in your career, as long as he keeps winning!
The manager is certainly going above and beyond expectations. He has built a defensively mature and astute side who are horrible to play against.
Will Still, when talking about the PSG, stated to the Daily Mail: “We irritated them to a boiling point,”
“Press them, foul them, go and grab them by the scuff of the neck basically.
“Don’t let them play out, don't give Mbappe the space he wants... as soon as there's a little foul, just run at the referee and make it as loud as possible.
“Just annoy them as much as we can.”
Still became a master of football’s dark arts as a teenager and has carried on this through his football management. He did reinforce that he isn’t like this in real life, but on the pitch sometimes you have to play dirty and take the game to the opposition.
Not only has he created a ‘mean team’ and sturdy defence, but Still has also brought the deadliest form to date out of Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun, who will almost definitely cause a headache for Arteta when he returns to the Emirates Stadium.
Balogun, another Englishman, has been the brightest star at Reims under Still’s guidance. He is the top scorer in Ligue 1, ahead of a whole array of mecurial talent. Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe, Neymar Jr, Alexandre Lacazette, Breel Embolo and Terem Moffi are just some of the names Balogun is currently topping.
He seems to be enjoying the attention, as in the last 10 days, the England U21 international has bagged a hat-trick against Lorient and netted a last-minute equaliser at the Parc des Princes.
“He's unbelievable, he has real talent, but he is also just a top person,” the manager says.
“He's trying to learn the language - we have a bit of banter because his French is terrible,
“Being good here will allow him to get the spotlight and attention he needs.”
It is no doubt that Still has played a part in Balogun’s stellar run of form in France. His training style is reported to be extremely competitive, where every small game has a winner or a points system to replicate pressure in a real game.
The losers often have the punishment of paying for a meal out with the rest of the lads, which brings the whole team together.
He reportedly checks on all the players, what they eat for breakfast, how their personal lives are, and joins in with the banter being of a similar age to the players. He clearly wants the players to treat him as a mate, or someone they can trust, rather than just ‘the gaffer’.
“I get the feeling that this generation just wants to have a bit of fun and the more you encourage them to be themselves and express themselves, the more banter and energy comes out.” Still says.
It is an inspirational season for Reims, and for their young English coach and striker. Can Still keep Reims ruffling feathers in Ligue 1?