The GFFN view | Reims’ Will Still a breath of fresh air and an example to Ligue 1 rivals

The managerial merry-go-round is one of the defining features of Ligue 1; the old names keep cropping up, each season at a different club.

Frédéric Antonetti hopped off for a short while after relegation with Metz, but he is now taking another spin, this time at Strasbourg; Michel Der Zakarian is back at Montpellier after a brief and unsuccessful interlude at Brest; Jean-Marc Furlan is currently without a club after a middle finger gesture put pay to his time at Auxerre, but he’ll be back; whilst Antoine Kombouaré is plugging away at his eighth French club, Nantes. 

Whilst the latter appointment can certainly be considered a success given their Coupe de France triumph last season, there is no escaping the fact that so many managerial appointments in the French top-flight are wholly unimaginative, oriented towards the short-term and uninspiring. 

Will Still marks a radical departure from that, and his success at Reims should provide a blueprint for other clubs to follow. Some already are. 

The appointment of the Belgian-born English manager, who learned his craft on Football Manager, understandably raised a few eyebrows when he replaced Oscar Garcia in the Reims dugout in September. 

Still was an internal promotion and was initially only appointed as the interim manager. His only managerial spell was at Belgian side Beerschot and Still is yet to obtain his UEFA Pro License, meaning that Reims have to fork out €25,000 every time they play.

It is a financial punishment worth taking. What Still has orchestrated at Reims is nothing short of remarkable. He remains unbeaten in Ligue 1 since his arrival in September. The 16-game unbeaten run is the longest in the club’s history, beating the previous record set in 1959 – a time when Reims were a European powerhouse. 

The draw also cemented Still’s place in the history books, becoming only the second manager to go unbeaten in his first 14 Ligue 1 games, after former Paris Saint-Germain manager Thomas Tuchel, who went 20 games unbeaten.

That run has included two draws against PSG, the second secured by Ligue 1 top-scorer Folarin Balogun with the final kick of the game at the Parc des Princes. During that tie, Still’s side displayed a pragmatic approach, underlined by defensive solidity and swift vertical transitions. Against the likes of ESTAC Troyes and FC Lorient, his side have adopted a more expansive approach, scoring four goals against both of those opponents.

The statistics, as well as the tactical adaptability and oftentimes pragmatism of Still’s footballing ideology evidence a manager that can already be ranked amongst Ligue 1’s elite. 

Despite some impressive individuals, notably Balogun, this is not an elite Reims side, but he is extracting elite performance. Many managers with more are doing less, the example of Olympique Lyonnais is the most obvious, but there are others. 

Still’s appointment can serve as a lesson to some of those clubs. The importance – both financial and sporting – of remaining in Ligue 1 cannot be understated, and within that context, many clubs go for the tried and tested. Still and Reims are the antithesis of this approach, which, with the appointment of Didier Digard at Nice more recently, may be becoming less fashionable. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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