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Will Still needs time at Reims to develop

Will Still’s story will give every Football Manager fan hope. The 30-year-old was obsessed with the computer simulation, so much so that it provided a quite romantic story of his rise into top level coaching. Now he finds himself in charge of French side Reims, despite not holding a UEFA Pro License, the relevant qualification needed to manage in Ligue 1. Reims have to pay a fine every game they play as a result.

Born in Belgium to English parents, Still grew up near Brussels and all of his professional coaching has taken place between Belgium and France. But he attended college in Preston and worked with the Preston North-End under-14s. His story is enough to garner attention; there are so many people who will want to follow in his footsteps, and he stands as further evidence that elite coaching doesn’t need a top playing career to go with it. But the impact he has had at Reims this season has only increased his admirers; until Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Marseille, his team had been on a 19-match unbeaten run, with Arsenal loanee Folarin Balogun, who had been hoping to earn an England call up this week, as the qualifying for Euro 2024 kicks off.

Last week, though, he admitted his frustration at the way the narrative has developed around him, insisting he is much more than simply a ‘Football Manager geek’.

“It’s a myth that we have to break because we have qualifications, [Nice manager] Didier Digard and myself,” Still said. “We have the highest possible, or attainable, diplomas so far.

“I repeat, at 30, having the BEPF [Brevet d’Entraineur Professionnel de Football] or the Pro License is very complicated. I couldn’t have done it before because I’m only the age that I am. Of course, diplomas are important and I’m not just a geek who played Football Manager. It’s totally wrong.”

Still appears to have a bright future in management. The Premier League is his ambition as he is a West Ham fan. But having taken the Reims job in October, a promotion from the assistant role he had initially taken, it seems strange to add extra pressure on his shoulders. Not that Still will be listening to the noise.

It is the same with a young talent on the pitch; there is no appreciation for development. Still has been instantly linked with the Crystal Palace job after Patrick Vieira was sacked on Friday. Although it is incredibly unlikely that he will take over at Selhurst Park, the fact it has even been mooted shows the dangers that surround Still. Less than 20 games into his management career, without the relevant qualifications, is not nearly enough evidence to suggest he is ready for a Premier League relegation battle.

But he shouldn’t be; it is no slight on Still to say he isn’t ready, but an issue with the media and discourse. As football is become more tactical, it is more possible to study it. Still has dedicated himself to learning and developing coaching methods for modern football, and his grounding in France and Belgium will only improve his skillset for the future. He needs that time to work on his own style even more, before anything more than Reims becomes his focus.

Of course Still’s interest could be tested if West Ham come calling anytime soon. David Moyes is under growing pressure at the London Stadium; despite the Hammers enjoying their third successive European campaign, relegation is a real possibility. But again, Still is not the man for them; not yet anyway.

But he knows that better than anyone. His comments on the ties with Football Manager showed great self awareness. Now he needs to find his feet as a manager on the pitch, away from the talk of his past. Losing at the weekend marked the end of his brilliant first chapter; now his Reims side must bounce back from adversity, led by their excellent young coach.

They will learn new lessons and grow together. Still needs that time, away from constant pressure and scrutiny, as well as his final licenses, before any thoughts of his Premier League aims.

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