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The rumour mill for who will be next in the Sunderland hot seat is in full swing, with names shooting up across the board. Some have been intriguing, whereas others (Steve Bruce) have made you wish you didn’t open your phone - luckily betting sites are not always right.
The strongest rumours so far seem to be for a man who has quickly made a name for himself in France. Perhaps the most English Belgian there’s ever been, Will Still looks to be a genuine candidate to be our next head coach - and it’s the most ‘Sunderland in 2023’ thing I can picture.
For the football nerds amongst you (us - I’ll include myself in that), Still is an absolute dream. At age 31, he’s been manager and assistant manager at several European clubs. At this point in time, he has Stade De Reims sitting fifth in Ligue 1. During his short career in football, he’s had more than his fair share of different roles.
Born in the Walloon region of Belgium in 1992, Still’s parents are English and he holds dual citizenship. The manager is a well-known fan of Football Manager, and he’s built a bit of a cult following as a result.
His time at Reims and his coaching qualifications made him a bit of an internet sensation. For several games last season, Reims were forced to pay a fine of £22,000 due to the fact Still didn’t have his UEFA Pro licence. Before anyone tries to say that we’ll need to do the same - don’t worry - he started attending the National Football Centre near Brussels and as a result, is in the process of getting his licence.
At age 19, he worked within the academy at Preston North End. This role was followed with a move back over to his native Belgium. During spells at Sint-Truden, Lierse SK and Standard Liege he was a scout, video analyst and assistant coach - all roles which point towards a man who enjoys the data and analysis side of football which Sunderland deep dive into these days.
In 2018, Still was appointed as a video analyst at Belgian second division club KFCO Beerschot and this was followed by a promotion to Assistant Coach. Beerschot VA gave Still his first head coach/manager’s job in January 2021, and the years before his current post have seen him be assistant coach at Standard Liege and Stade Reims.
As he has risen in prominence, Still has spoken of his methods to the press. In a Daily Mail interview, he talked about intensive training, and how everything they do is a game with points. The player who is bottom of the table at the end of each week takes the team out for a meal.
He added that because he is young, he has more in common with his players than an older manager might. Still said in the interview:
They put music on that I listen to. They’re talking about things I’ve probably watched on tele or done with my mates. I’m not going to dive into the conversation because that’s their life. But I understand it.
And if I have to tell a player to come off the bench and do this for us, it’s just what words I am going to use so that he knows I understand what he’s feeling.
His CV and how he runs his football clubs make him stand out as a candidate who you would imagine KLD and Speakman probably see as perfect. He’s had a lot of work with young players, and developing squads into competitive sides which challenge at the right end of the table.
Still has a very clear favourite set-up, which is a 4-2-3-1 formation. At Reims, he shifted the Ligue 1 side to this from 5-3-2. Still likes a hard press, and having two midfielders sitting deep allowed for a few more bodies in the middle of the park- something which Sunderland have been guilty of not having at times this season.
If he was to become our new Head Coach, it would signal a change of direction for Sunderland. It’s pretty clear that KLD and co have wanted a coach who follows the same path as our youth-orientated recruitment, and appointing Still would make complete sense.