The prospect of a 30-year-old Englishman, a fan of the video game Football Manager who has never played a single game of professional football in his life, being a top-flight professional manager for a club taking on the likes of Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappé on a weekly basis, sounds like the kind of story a football fan would conjure up in the wildest of dreams. Yet, it is reality for William Still.
The young manager has been coach of French Ligue 1 team Reims since 13th October 2022, and, at the time of writing, has yet to lose any of his thirteen matches in charge. And, to make things even more implausible, his team faces a fine of £22,000 every time he steps into the dugout, as he has not yet obtained the necessary coaching qualifications. It is a truly remarkable rise for Still. But where did it all start?
Still was born in Braine-l’Alleud, Belgium, to British parents, in 1992, and was raised in England. After an underwhelming youth career with several low-level Dutch clubs, Still decided to return to England and become a football coach, based on his experience playing Football Manager and Championship Manager – aged just 17 years old. Beginning his career as assistant manager of the under-14s at Preston North End, Still spent the next decade building up his experience, bouncing between assistant managerial jobs at Belgium clubs Lierse, Beerschot and even top-flight Standard Liège, before a couple of spells as an assistant at Stade de Reims in the French top-flight saw him promoted to permanent manager in October 2022, following the dismissal of his superior Óscar García after just 1 win in the season prior.
And, despite the hefty fee Reims are forced to pay for Still every week, it seems to be paying off – the club was 17th when he took over, and is now in 10th, having not lost a game since, and is in a good place for the rest of the second half of the Ligue 1 season. Their striker, Folarin Balogun, a 21-year-old loanee from Premier League leaders Arsenal, is currently the top scorer in the league. His tally of 14 exceeds that of the two greatest players in the world, World Cup stars Messi and Mbappé, as well as seasoned professionals like Neymar, former Arsenal men Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez, and other rising Ligue 1 stars.
Still is not the first manager to have gone straight into coaching without a playing career – the likes of whom include former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas, Rangers legend Bill Struth, and even current Bayern Munich manager Julian Nagelsmann, who ended his playing career aged 20 due to injuries. Yet none experienced such a meteoric rise as Still, and none have done it in such relatable fashion for football fans around the world.
It seems unexpected even for Still himself, who admitted to Drivetime that his position was “ridiculous… if you told me about five or six years ago I’d be standing there telling my defenders how to defend against [Kylian] Mbappe, [Lionel] Messi and Neymar, I think I’d have probably said punch me in the face, because it sounds completely stupid.” Yet, for all its ‘stupidity’, his defenders were indeed able to hold Mbappe and Messi’s PSG to a 1-1 draw, courtesy of a late Balogun equaliser. A video of his team-talk ahead of the game went viral for his effortless alternating between his native French and his “f*cking stay focused” English.
It is remarkably easy for someone like Still to get carried away. But, while his aspirations can be sky-high for the next decades of his managerial career – after all, he is 33 years younger than current Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti –
Still remains humble, telling TalkSport “I’m 30, I’m just Will and I’m trying to win a few games of football.”
Reims’ move to place Still in charge was an incredibly risky one, especially given the weekly fine, and one that has yet to be concretely proven – there are still 12 matches of the season to go. Yet it is hard to argue that Reims do not have an extremely bright young prospect on their hands, one that will inspire countless sofa tacticians to believe they, too, could take on Messi from the touchline. Reims fans will be hoping that Will Still will still be the man to lead Reims to a successful season – and from the looks of it, they are in for a treat.
Image description: Profile of Will Still in the Football Manager 23 game
Image credit: Purav Menon