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Where did he come from?

"What you're doing is incredible," said Reims 3-1 Rennes referee Ahmed Ben El Hadj to Reims coach Will Still as he went to shake hands with him after the game.

The match against Rennes became Still's 7th in a series without defeat after Reims, who are in 17th place (the relegation zone) after 9 rounds, removed Oscar Garcia and appointed his assistant in October 2022, 30-year-old Still. So Will became the youngest manager in Ligue 1 since 2004 and the youngest current coach in the top 5 leagues.

The successful streak did not end at Rennes. Further, Reims won Ligue 1 once again, drew twice, and defeated rivals twice in the French Cup. Already 12 matches without defeat.

Reims moved up to 11th position, 10 points clear of the relegation zone.

This happens when a Football Manager fan is allowed to coach a real club.

Still really loves Football Manager. He most often played for his beloved West Ham

The central fact about Still is that he is an unreal fan of Football Manager (a series of computer games, a football manager simulator). In an interview with The Coaches Voice, he talked about his first love:

"I used to sit down in the evening, the time was approaching 22:00, and I thought: "Well, the last match - and I go to bed. And then you look and see on the clock 4:00: "One more game is possible."

Football Manager is my main teenage memory. My brother and I didn't have a PlayStation; we played endlessly on a shared computer. Team selection, roster development, training organization, and long-term strategies - I loved every detail. When I started working at St. Truiden, I took the team to FM simultaneously; I even tried to look for players for a real club in the game.

The more I worked in real life, the less time I spent on FM. In "Reims," it is no longer possible to play.
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For a long time, I did not consider that Football Manager influenced me as a coach in real life, but now I understand that there was an influence. And now I can say with confidence: the game is very realistic!"

He admitted that he most often played for West Ham: he took the team in each new part and won all possible trophies. Love was inherited; still's father is also a West Ham fan. Will said that he does not set specific big goals in his coaching career, but to work in a genuine West Ham is a dream.

Still's biography is an example of an actual career ladder. Slowly from a total no-name to one of the youngest coaches in Belgian history

Still is an ethnic Englishman who grew up in Belgium, where his parents moved before he was born. He tried to break into big football as a rough defensive midfielder: "On the field, I was the dirtiest bastard in the world: I stepped on my feet, provoked me with blows in the back. My mom was shy about coming to games." Will said he did not rise to the professional level because of the zero speed: "Run 100 meters in about 10 days."

Will seriously thought about his coaching career while studying at college, when he went for a year on an exchange to English Preston. There, Still trained at the Preston academy immediately after the club's descent from the Championship to League 1. Of course, he was infinitely far from the central team; he trained children. I fell in love with the training process and returned to Belgium to start working faster.

"Hi, I'm a young guy with some Preston experience and a college degree. Can I be of any help?" - Still sent such a request to all professional clubs in Belgium.

Answered "St. Truiden," the second league club in Belgium. It was in his junior team that Still stepped on his feet and hit him in the back. Coach Yannick Ferrera, who worked with Still at the academy, nevertheless responded: he asked to go to the match of the closest opponent, record the game, cut the video, and write a report.

Still can't even remember how many times he watched that match. Repeated over and over again to capture every little detail. Ferrera admired the volume and quality of the material. Will became St. Truiden's video analyst on a pro bono basis. Gradually, Ferrera became involved Still: he invited him to practice sessions, asked him to compile a playbook for standards, and allowed him to supervise some classes like rondos and practicing passes.

Ferrera was invited to Standard, and the coach took Still with him, for whom this was the first relatively serious job in football. When Ferrera was fired, the union broke up, and Still, already with an acceptable resume, got a job at Lierse. There he combined video analytics with scouting, was promoted to assistant coach, and in October 2017, he was suddenly offered to lead the team. CEO Roel Ryman admitted that he likes Still's ideas. Will replied that he was not ready yet, and politely jumped off. Gender convinced.

At 24, he became the youngest coach in the history of the Belgian second division.

Statistics: 7 wins and 2 draws. After 56 days, he again descended to assistant because with a category A license from UEFA, you can lead a professional team for up to 60 days.

At the end of the 2017/18 season, Liers filed for bankruptcy and Still moved to Beerschot, also from the second league. There he worked as an assistant for 2.5 years; in this role, together with the club, he rose to the elite division for the first time in its history. In the middle of the 2020/21 season, head coach Hernan Lozada left for the MLS, and Bershot, unexpectedly going as far as 6th place, appointed 28-year-old Still as a coach.
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Only two coaches in history were younger in the Belgian championship.

Beerschot eventually finished 9th and, at the end of the season, invited Still to return to the assistant post. Will took that as a step back. Beerschot was relegated the following season, finishing in last place.

Still was taken by Reims. Will was blown away by a call from CEO Matthieu Lacour, who assured that Reims had been following Will for a long time, representatives of the club even attended Berschot matches, and they liked how Still was acting on the touchline. They explained that the club had good tactics and video analysts but needed someone like Will, who could emotionally whip the players.

Of course, Still agreed. He stayed at the club for three months, went to Belgium to get his A license, worked as an assistant at Standard until the end of the 2021/22 season, and returned to Reims. In October 2022, Reims sacked Oscar Garcia and offered Still to fill the vacancy. At least six matches before the pause at the World Cup.

Still agreed.

Still is not a tactical geek or laptop trainer like Nagelsmann and Tedesco

Enrolling 30-year-old Still in the same class as Julian Nagelsmann (at 28, he became the youngest Bundesliga coach) and Domenico Tedesco (who led Schalke at 31) is tempting. The Germans are representatives of the generation of laptop coaches who went to school with a pale, sometimes zero gaming background, received elite licenses with the best grades, and offered innovative tactical ideas.

Still needs to get a Pro license (he will receive it only in the summer of 2023), so Reims pays 25 thousand euros for each Ligue 1 match. In Belgium, for example, you can study as a Pro and train calmly. In France, without a diploma, a fine is due. Reims says they are ready to invest in talent.

Still is unlikely to offer a tactical revolution. His landmark is Sir Alex Ferguson. Will considers the organization of the team as an integral team, where there are no contradictions between everyday fun and heated competition for a place at the base, to be the main strength of Will.
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Will explained that he was a fan of competitive training, points are given for success in any class, and the losers must sacrifice something - for example, arrange a dinner at the end of the month at their own expense. The coach believes that the younger generation loves the feeling of a constant race; the rivalry does not break them but spurs them on. Reims defender Thomas Foke confirmed: "In almost every position, we have competition, while there is no intrigue or resentment. The substitutes are engaged and focused."

Still said that his young coaching age was advantageous with this approach: "I enjoy listening to music in the locker room with the players; we have similar interests. Against this background, it is easy to build favorable relationships."

An important detail of Still's coaching portrait is the knowledge of languages. Reims President Jean-Pierre Cuyo calls Villa a polyglot in an interview instead of a first or last name. It's like a nickname.

English parents taught me English. In Belgium, he grew up in the province of Walloon Brabant, where French is predominantly spoken. But the region borders a part of Belgium where Dutch is the leader, so Still has mastered both languages.

He also fits Reims perfectly: he speaks French with the French and Africans, he also prefers French with the Belgian Maxim Busi, with the Belgian Thibaut De Smet - Dutch, the Belgian Foke was born in Brussels, which symbolizes the Franco-Dutch bilingualism of Belgium. Still speaks Dutch with Dutchmen Mitchell van Bergen, Azor Matusiva, and Kai Sirhuis. At the same time, the main star of Reims-2022/23, Englishman Folarin Balogun, on loan from Arsenal, communicates quickly with Still in English.

So Still does not allow anyone to separate from the team. He told me that, together with other players, he was teaching Balogun French and was trying very hard, but it had turned out so far.
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Cozy atmosphere. True, the close-knit Reims has another side. "Crush them, provoke them, grab them by the neck. Keep quick combos from playing. Don't give Mbappe space. As soon as you break the rules, immediately run to the referee to slow down the pace," these are Still's top tips before the game against PSG, which was Villa's debut as Reims head coach. We played 0-0, and Sergio Ramos retired on the 41st due to disputes.

This style of play is hardly something to be proud of, but we are talking about a team still in the Ligue 1 relegation zone at that time. This is different from where in preparation for PSG, one thinks about inverted fullbacks or is inspired by Ten Hag's counter-attack plan against "Man City. Sometimes unity works not for creation but for destruction. Steel uses it.

How is Reims playing? Still was an excellent crisis manager

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Statistically anomalous. Still's "Reims" is a mockery of xG models. The team after the coaching reshuffle has the worst difference between actual (9) and expected (16.3) goals – -7.3. And at the same time, the most significant difference between actual (4) and expected (12.5) missed is +8.5. This means that Still's "Reims" is very unlucky in the end but very lucky with the wrong end of the opponents.

The balance is fair, but a spread in both directions is rare, even at a short distance of 10 rounds.

Still explained the essence of the proposed football: "We must be proactive, overestimate the pace of the game, keep the intensity." With the new 4-2-3-1 formation (Garcia preferred to play with three CBs), Reims actively presses and speeds up the game with fast attacks. At the same time, with Still, the team is gradually improving territorial control - before Garcia's dismissal, Reims had minor ball possession in France (38.5%), Still asks for more (47.6%).

Reims has two players who stand out. The apparent hero is the 21-year-old striker Balogun, who has already scored 10 goals. This is 48% of all Reims goals; no player in Ligue 1 has a larger share. A light, fast-forward tip that dives a lot behind defenders. At the same time, Balogun scored a significant part of the goals after flank passes into a filled penalty area: either he would calmly react to an opponent's mistake when taking out, then he would bounce into a shortfall under a canopy, then he would accelerate to the near one and close the cross. With fast footwork, he also earns a penalty. But obviously, he can pump the game without the ball and play along.

A less popular character is Japanese right-winger Junya Ito, the club's record-breaking purchase (from Genk for €10m in the summer of 2022). Multitasking talent: accelerates, crosses, and shoots; beats both at speed and on dribbling; hits with an offset or turns on under a cross from the other flank, can play a combination from the bottom on the side. He has no skills at the elite level, but thanks to a wide range of skills, he is a threat in almost every match. Reims is the second scorer with 4 goals.

Both stood out under Garcia. Still only tweaked the details - for example, Reims often overloads the left flank to transfer the ball to Ito in a more accessible zone.

Still should be commended for improving the team structure. Off the ball, there is pressure with very aggressive central midfielders Azor Matusiva and Marshall Munetsi and a good transition from pressure to a solid middle block 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1.

With the ball, Still gave the lead role to defensive midfielder Matusiva (24, a graduate of the Ajax academy), who, until Garcia's sacking, barely played this season due to injury. Matusiva leads Reims in almost every match regarding the number of assists. He usually stays low, sometimes sitting between the two center-backs, winging diagonally; center-backs can take up more comprehensive positions with better angles for the advance pass, and the fullbacks move higher.

After a pause at the World Cup, Matusiva's new role only became more noticeable.

In the short run, Still proved to be an excellent crisis manager: he kept the form of the leaders and tweaked the phases with the ball and without the ball so that Reims, both in terms of the quality of the game and the results, turned into an average player at the level of 7-10 places in Ligue 1.

We must calmly spend the second half of the championship away from the relegation zone. And we will consider the potential of Still in the long term.