The 30-year-old English manager taking France by storm

Will Still: The 30-year-old English manager taking France by storm
Will Still became the youngest manager in Europe’s top five leagues when he replaced Óscar García as manager of Reims last season – AFP/Loic Venance

Despite Will Still’s passport listing Belgium as his birthplace and professionally coming of age in France, there is no question about where his loyalties lie.

The Reims manager would not look out of place in a pub down a country lane and when asked what truly makes him an orthodox Englishman, he responds: “My f—— ginger hair”.

“When people ask me whether I feel Belgian or English, I feel totally English. I was born in an English environment and culture,” the 30-year-old explains in an exclusive interview with Telegraph Sport.

“At home we always spoke English and whenever we went to England I felt at home there.”

Born in the Walloon region of Belgium to English parents, Still has forged a unique path by using a university diploma as a mechanism to become a football manager in Europe’s top five leagues.

It was only in October that Still took over the reins at Reims, leading them to a respectable 11th place and out of a turbulent period.

His success, however, came at a cost. The club have to pay a £22,000 fine for every game he manages until he receives his Uefa Pro Licence, but the Reims owners think he is worth every penny especially after a 19-game unbeaten run after replacing Oscar Garcia.

It is fair to say Still has come a long way since starting his career as assistant at Preston North End U14s after securing an internship following his studies. Still quickly became a video analyst in 2014 at Belgian side Sint Truiden before assistant manager stints at Standard Liege, Lierse and Beerschot.

It seems destined his future lies back in England, but the timing is not quite right – yet. A freshly penned contract extension until 2025 testifies how happy he is at Reims, who begin their League campaign at Marseille on Saturday.

“Ligue 1 is at a very high level, it’s one of the best leagues in the world. It’s the right place for me with all the things left to learn. I think it’s anyone’s ambition to coach and play in the Premier League,” Still said. “I had phone calls and offers but I’ve got more than enough time ahead of me to get there. If the opportunity comes at the right time, I’ll think about it but that’s not where I am for now.”

Such an outlook is hardly surprising when you consider how much Still’s life has changed in the past year.

“Life is about seizing opportunities and over the course of my career, I’ve been in the right place at the right time. Your life changes massively when you get opportunities like these,” he added.

But Still has no time for all the accolades and is blocking out the noise around his sudden rise to fame: “People get excited very quickly, but I’m not stupid enough to fall into that rubbish.”

A self-proclaimed control freak, Still demands supreme accuracy and near-surgical precision from his players. And if he feels that something is off, he’ll make his feelings known by frequently swapping between English and French to vent his anger.

“I can walk into the club in a really bad mood even when I’m not, just because I feel the energy is where it is and needs to change. It’s just the mind game we play,” Still admits.

“If I feel something’s s— I’ll say it to my players’ faces. It’s never hurt anyone and it never hurt me. I’ve done s— things and totally admit it.

“I am very meticulous in the way I go about things, leaving nothing to chance or luck. I try to control everything I can. Then you’re hit with a reality when players make mistakes which you can’t control but that’s the beauty of football. The higher you go the less mistakes are made and the better quality of players you have.”

Losing is by and large the “worst feeling in the world” but he finds it hard to enjoy the good moments knowing things can end abruptly overnight.

“In football you’re only as good as your last game. The pleasure of winning lasts about six-and-a-half minutes after the game. Losing lasts longer and I hate it. It makes me feel s— and I don’t sleep until 4-5 am afterwards. I take it personally because it’s my team and I should be able to tell the players what to do.”

So, players win games and managers lose them?

“That’s not how I think but that’s the way the world of football thinks and I am no exception. However good we were this year, if we lose five games out of five at the start of next season then who are people gonna look at?

“That’s the reality of the job but you know it before you start. It’s the pressure we’re under but that’s also what makes it exciting as well.”

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