Will Still: 'See where we can get to'

Will Still: 'See where we can get to'

Publish on 02/24 at 04:02 - S. WILLIS


Anglo-Belgian coach Will Still has overseen one of the great turnarounds in French football, lifting Stade de Reims out of relegation danger with an incredible 17-match unbeaten streak. The man of the moment sat down the with the Ligue 1 Show to talk about his rise and rise...

Stade de Reims have transformed from early relegation candidates to a top half team in Ligue 1. The Champagne club had won just once in their first 11 matches, but fast forward to February and they find themselves on a breath-taking run of 16 matches without defeat. Their journey has been remarkable, epitomised by the man at the helm – 30-year-old Anglo-Belgian head coach Will Still, who has Reims in their best form since their 1950s glory days.

Will, we're here at Stade de Reims, a very prestigious club in France. Six-time French champions and two-time European Cup finalists. Do you know where the phrase champagne football comes from?

Will Still: "Well, obviously from the area because of all the champagne around here. But, no, I think to me it just goes back to the glory days of Stade de Reims and the beautiful, flamboyant football the team used to play, and that's how Stade de Reims sort of identifies itself. We want to play good football, energetic football, that's pleasing on the eye."

I wanted to say, once Reims are safe from relegation can we expect to see some champagne football?

"Well, we're trying our best to give it now. I mean, we've shown glimpses of it."

Your first game, of course, was against Paris Saint-Germain. We saw a Reims side incredibly well-organised, incredibly determined, not afraid to get in their faces as well, to get stuck into Paris Saint-Germain. It was quite a baptism for you?

"It was quite an intense game, yeah. But, I think that's what we wanted to create. We wanted to not just sit back and sort of have wave after wave after wave of PSG attacking us, and them having a nice Saturday evening in Reims. We sort of set out and said 'right, let's have a go!'."

And, from your point of view, you're sort of diving in to the deep end because it's against PSG. Reims are, I think, 17th, so you're in the bottom four. It was only a point but a massive boost wasn't it?

"Yeah. It was like a stepping stone for what we sort of built next because it gave the players a confidence to believe in themselves and think 'well, if we can do it against PSG then we'll be able to do it against other teams in the league'. But it also sort of kick-started the identity of the team we want to be."

The results have been fantastic since you took charge. You're a young man, I know people have told you this, but 30 years of age and coaching here in the French top flight. Are you taking it in your stride or do you sometimes sort of pinch yourself and think WOW?

"I don't really think about it because again I've been in the situation before where I was 28 in Belgium and 24 in Belgium having that experience as head coach, and these things just sort of seem to happen. People tend to forget that I started when I was 21 as a video analyst and it's now I think my eighth or ninth season in professional football so although I'm really young, I have got a few years behind me that I can sort of look back at and reflect on. In the past I've had players almost ten years older than me, but it's just part of the job. The age is there. I can't, with the click of my fingers, add ten years on. It's just the way I am."

The two coaches who are doing unbelievably well are the two coaches without their pro licences, because Didier Digard is doing unbelievably well. Does that say anything about the way the set-up is and the sort of stereotypes of what a coach should be?

"I think it proves how difficult it is to get on the pro licence because people tend to forget that I've had my UEFA A for a few years. But, to me, I think nothing replaces experience, nothing replaces what you've actually seen and what you've actually been through and lived on the pitch and off the pitch. I'm doing it now and I'm learning off other people, I'm seeing other things, I'm developing myself as a person and as a coach so it can only be interesting. But obviously, I don't think it's the be all and end all."

It has been a fascinating journey, an unusual journey in any case. You didn't play professionally yet through talent, many hours playing Football Manager with your brother - but I think above all a lot of hard work - you've managed to forge a career as a professional coach. You must be incredibly proud of that?

"Yeah. I don't really like talking about myself to be honest. I think I was just a very ordinary kid who played hours on FIFA and Football Manager. Ever since I can remember it was just about football, and my mum was like 'Come on Will you've got to do proper studies as they say, you've got to do something good with your life', and I was like 'Mum, bore off'. All I wanted to do was play football, and if I wasn't going to play football I was going to be involved in football."

"It's often at the end of a season where I sort of look back and think 'WOW, what a journey, what a ride that was'. But, whilst you're in it, you're so focused on the next game, the next training session, the players and all the aspects that surround the club and the team, that you don't really have time to sit down and have a think about it. So, yeah, to me it's just another part of life, a piece of the journey and we'll see where I go after this."

Obviously you want to keep on getting better, and get as many points as possible. Do you have any other objectives?

"Well, to be honest, when I took over the club's sort of urgent message was 'Will, we have to get out of this relegation scrap'. We had to stay clear of relegation because it's the first year that four teams go down in Ligue 1. I've always said 'Let's just try and push and see where we can get to, and the higher we get the better it is'. But we just want to be ambitious I think. We want to be competitive and, you know, have a proper go at it."

>> LIVE MATCH: Stade de Reims - Toulouse FC

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