Will Still is no longer in contention to take charge at Sunderland this summer after a dramatic twist, with the club's hierarchy now turning their attention elsewhere in the search for a new head coach.

Still has been Sunderland's top target in recent weeks after the 31-year-old's exit from Stade de Reims early in May.

The Belgian's camp say Still has rejected the move to Sunderland because he has concerns over investment and the make-up of his coaching team if he were to move to the Stadium of Light.

However, sources say a deal for Still to take charge of Sunderland was all but agreed last weekend, and contracts were on the verge of being exchanged, before Friday's u-turn. 

It follows reports of RC Lens registering their interest in the 31-year-old - the French Ligue 1 club now looking increasingly likely to land Still after a breakdown in negotiations to take him to the Stadium of Light. Lens are on the lookout for a new man in charge with current head coach Franck Haise set for Nice, where he'll replace former Sunderland target Francesco Farioli, who left for Ajax earlier this month.

Still, who has also recently held talks with Norwich City prior to Johannes Hoff Thorup's appointment at Carrow Road, was on Sunderland's radar back in December after Tony Mowbray's departure and emerged as the leading target once more when he became available earlier this month following his Ligue 1 exit.

And sources say Sunderland chiefs, having surpassed the 100-day mark without a replacement for Michael Beale, thought their search for a new head coach had come to a close with the capture of Still just days ago ahead of recent developments.


READ MORE: The story of Will Still and why Sunderland are right to be interested


Football agent Fabrizio Romano confirmed earlier this week how Still had moved to a new agency with 'Unique Sports Group' while also declaring the Belgian remained 'open' for a new challenge ahead of next season. It suggested Still's move to Sunderland was not yet complete, with discussions over his backroom staff and the club's future investment having now come to light.

We Are Sunderland: Mike Dodds took interim charge of Sunderland for the final 13 games of the Championship seasonMike Dodds took interim charge of Sunderland for the final 13 games of the Championship season (Image: Ian Horrocks)

Sunderland could face a number of bids for key players this summer, with leading goalscorer Jack Clarke already the subject of interest from Southampton after their return to the Premier League was confirmed, while Jobe Bellingham is another who has garnered Premier League admirers, with both Crystal Palace and Brentford said to be keen on the 18-year-old. 

Sunderland's struggles up front this season have been an ever-present since the departure of Ross Stewart, with Still's reported concerns over investment likely to have centred around the centre-forward position and how the club intended to improve the squad following their 16th place finish in the Championship. 

Still is regarded as one of the brightest young coaches on the market owning to his exploits across Belgium and France at such a young age and is believed to have been Sunderland majority owner Kyril Louis-Dreyfus' preferred candidate over the course of the last six months, dating back to Mowbray's exit in December where a deal could not be struck, with Still locked into a contract at the Stade Auguste Delaune.

Still became the youngest coach in Europe's top five leagues when he was appointed by Reims, aged 30, in October 2022 where he went on a 17-match unbeaten run to finish 11th in the table, a run which included being the first team to prevent Paris Saint-Germain from scoring a goal last season.

We Are Sunderland: Will Still was close to agreeing a deal to become Sunderland's new head coachWill Still was close to agreeing a deal to become Sunderland's new head coach (Image: Image: Matthieu Mirville / DPPI)

Still's impressive start to life with Reims continued through the first half of this season where a 3-1 victory over Monaco in January left the club sixth in Ligue 1 before a drop off in form saw them slide down the table ahead of Still's departure.

"We are proud to have been able to contribute to the emergence of a coach who knew how to impose his convictions and his playing identity," said club president Jean-Pierre Caillot following a mutual agreement to part ways with Still.

"It’s a very beautiful story, a very beautiful meeting. He matched the profile we wanted. But then, it’s a bit of a risk when you take on young people.

“Here, at Stade de Reims, we give young people a chance at all levels, whether players or staff, and when we have young people, we have to accept at times that they make mistakes.

“I think that the ‘Will Still effect’ meant that there were a lot of communications from him, a lot of requests. A more experienced coach would have protected himself more, and he went from being a nice guy with a fresh air, to someone who was a little lost in his communication and this was felt in his management of the team.

“For six months, we could see that it was not the Will Still that we had chosen for over a year now, that things had changed. It was hard to imagine how the story could continue."

Although Sunderland are believed to have thought negotiations had reached their final stages last weekend, those requests now appear to be at the heart of a breakdown with Still now likely to return to France, despite harbouring ambitions of managing in England.

Sunderland will now turn their attention elsewhere, having seen other candidates such as Danny Rohl and Bo Svensson commit their futures away from Wearside, and while it's unclear who is now in the frame to take charge at the Stadium of Light, the club are said to have 'live targets' under consideration.