Age just 30, Will Still is the youngest coach in Europe's top soccer leagues and enjoying a remarkable start in charge of Reims — the club with the current longest unbeaten run in Ligue 1.
Born in Belgium to English parents, Still got his first coaching experience with Preston's academy before he was named interim coach of Belgian second-tier side Lierse at 24. Four years later he was appointed by Beerschot, becoming the youngest-ever coach in Belgium's Pro League. Reims soon came calling, and after briefly going home, he returned to Champagne region for a second spell as an assistant this season. In October he took over from Oscar Garcia, who was initially back in Spain for personal reasons before being sacked, with Still promoted to the top job on a permanent basis during the World Cup.
"If someone had told me I'd be the head coach of a Ligue 1 side at 30, I'd have told them to punch me in the face," Still recently told the Coaches' Voice website.
But for Still, whose passion for coaching emanates in part from hours spent playing the cult video game Football Manager, fantasy gave way to reality when his first game in charge came against Paris Saint-Germain.
"The idea that, at 30, I'd be managing a team against Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Sergio Ramos and Marco Verratti, and in the opposition dugout to Christophe Galtier, was equally mad. I'd never considered that Football Manager had had an influence on my real-life career, but thinking about it now, it definitely did," he added. "I got fixated on it as a kid, and playing the game probably ignited the fire in me that I have now as a coach on the touchline."
Still showed he was not in over his head as Reims held PSG to a 0-0 draw, just one of two games in which the French champion has failed to score this season. Reims are unbeaten in 11 games in Ligue 1 — all but one of those under Still, whose older brother, Edward, is coach of Eupen in Belgium's top tier. Younger brother Nicolas is his assistant there.
On Sunday, Still gets the chance to face PSG for the second time, with Lionel Messi — who missed the first matchup — expected to play after he was rested for PSG's 7-0 win over sixth-tier US Pays de Cassel in the French Cup. Neymar came off the bench in the October stalemate, but with Lens able to tie PSG atop the standings with a victory at Troyes on Saturday and Marseille also closing in, PSG will likely be at full strength at the Parc des Princes.
One to watch: Terem Moffi
The Nigerian has attracted interest from a number of clubs this month after his strong form in front of goal for Lorient, who made a flying start but have won just one of their past nine games. The 23-year-old is at the center of a tug of war between Marseille and Nice. Moffi's reported preference is a move to Nice, but Marseille remain hopeful of luring him to the Velodrome. Lorient have already sold Dango Ouattara to Bournemouth and are lining up Marseille's Bamba Dieng as a potential replacement for Moffi, whose 12 goals put him one behind Mbappe in Ligue 1's goalscoring chart.
Friday: Lorient vs Rennes
Saturday: Troyes vs Lens, Marseille vs Monaco
Sunday: Nice vs Lille, Auxerre vs Montpellier, Brest vs Angers, Clermont vs Nantes, Strasbourg vs Toulouse, Ajaccio vs Lyon, Paris Saint-Germain vs Reims
• Soccer on TV
© Agence France-Presse