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SOCCER

Who is Will Still? From Football Manager to Ligue 1

Will Still, 30, has never tasted defeat with Reims. He went from Football Manager to his first coaching role in Ligue 1.

Reims (Francia)
Who is Will Still? From Football Manager to Ligue 1
FEPGetty

For many years, even decades, Ligue 1 has been characterised as a competition that does not reward innovation on the bench. The enormous hurdles the league places on young coaches, forcing them to do multiple diplomas and training courses, discourages the emergence of coaches who can import fresh ideas into a game that has never been known for having revolutionary coaches in Europe, with the exception of Zinedine Zidane.

In Reims, in the Champagne region of north-eastern France, Will Still is breaking all the stereotypes of French football. The 30-year-old’s side recorded a 1-0 win at Ajaccio on Wednesday and drew 0-0 with Nice on Sunday to extend his unbeaten run since he took over as interim coach on 15 October. His Reims side is an attacking, possession-based team that is not afraid of any opponent in France’s top tier.

From Football Manager to France

Still’s career is, quite literally, a video game. He is the son of English parents who emigrated early to Belgium, however, the current Reims coach was not a promising player. In 2001, he bought FIFA Manager Premier League, a video game that, while nothing like today’s Football Manager, opened his mind. His addiction and knowledge eventually forced his parents to prevent him from playing, although he was able to continue learning on the sly.

Football Manager and his interest in tactics led Still to give up being a player at the age of 17 to try his hand at coaching. He trained at Myerscough College in Preston. With the help of 2D video game animations, he became a top video analyst, so much so that Belgian second division side Saint-Trond appointed him in 2014 after Reims said no.

As an interim coach, he became the youngest Belgian coach in top-flight history. Still later joined Reims in 2021 to become the assistant to Oscar Garcia. Under the Catalan, who was sacked in October, they developed an innovative, fast-paced style of play that led to a comfortable finish last season. When the historic French side announced Still as interim coach, many thought it would be a temporary decision. It wasn’t.

He is the youngest coach in Europe’s top five leagues and after he went several games unbeaten, Reims decided he was the right man for the job, at least until the end of the season. It mattered little to Reims that Still did not have a coaching licence (he is in the process of obtaining one) and that the club had to pay a fine of more than €20,000 for every game he sat on the bench. Now ten games unbeaten, the boy who spent hours and hours playing Football Manager wants to continue to break down barriers in Ligue 1.