The underestimated importance of throw-ins: an interview with Thomas Gronnemark
Throw-ins are one of the most underrated aspects of a football game. Its normal routine as the ball goes out of bounds isn’t seen with the importance it should get. These situations can change games and as much as teams look at it, the better they will exploit these situations.
In Jürgen Klopp’s first two seasons at Liverpool, the defensive woes seemed to take off the credit of the German’s outstanding job for the club since his arrival. A Europa League final in his first six months, followed by a solid top-four finish was certainly a big sign of improvement for a team that was languishing in fighting for a 6th place in the Premier League. However, the next step was needed.
Klopp’s breathtaking style of play with tireless pressing and incisive counter-attacks, at times, wasn’t enough to win matches. During Klopp’s early days, Liverpool had seen comfortable matches drift out of their hands in the most disastrous ways possible, the majority of them coming through silly defensive mistakes.
Since the arrival of Virgil Van Dijk last year, as a club record signing, Liverpool has improved into the best defence in the Premier League, turning a shaky and error-prone backline into a solid, cohesive defensive system that has been the difference in many close games. Something, however, that hasn’t been underlined enough is the way Liverpool have been dealing with throw-ins and how they are hugely important in their defensive and attacking set-up.
Long throw-ins used to be difficult to deal with when they fell into Liverpool’s box, but dealing with them is a regular thing and creating opportunities from opposition’s throw-ins is becoming more and more ingrained in Liverpool’s fast-paced style.
Since the start of the season, The Reds have been working with a throw-in coach, Thomas Gronnemark, who holds a record for the Guinness longest throw-in.
In the press conference before the win away at Leicester, Jürgen Klopp explained the appointment of a throw-in coach and his statement certainly highlighted the importance of the throw-ins and how underrated they are:
When I heard about Thomas, it was clear to me I wanted to meet him; when I met him, it was 100 per cent clear I wanted to employ him. Now he is here and we work on that from time to time.
We use his information as well during the weeks when he is not here. We use it of course for the Academy as well. It’s good.
Being a specialist in this area of the game is not something we see every day, but when it appears, especially in a big club like Liverpool, it raises questions and ultimately puts in the spotlight why clubs should take a close, detailed look at throw-ins, not just standard and repetitive movements.
Thomas Gronnemark was a former football player and was a part of the Danish Athletics national team until 2004, when he decided to use his experience in football and athletics to develop better throw-in methods in football. Since then, Thomas has worked with clubs in Denmark, Germany and more recently, Liverpool. It has been a long journey for Thomas to work in a club like Liverpool and he is now proving how effective throw-ins can be in the modern game.
In the press conference Jürgen answered about the appointment of Thomas, the question made by the journalist stated that Liverpool were probably the first team in England to appoint a throw-in coach and the unusuality about the appointment generated some surprise.
For Thomas himself, when being called by Jürgen to coach to throw-ins, it was also a big surprise. Thomas told:
Jurgen called me in the start of July and he left a message on the answering machine, it was quite surprising when I received a call from him. He invited me to come to Melwood for a meeting and that was fantastic, and in the day after the meeting I was allowed to coach a lot of the players that weren’t injured or at vacation. So, Jurgen just called me and it’s been like an adventure since, it is fantastic to work for Liverpool.
Since his arrival at Anfield, Jürgen Klopp has been able to inject new life at the club. This includes high-quality players arriving convinced that he has the talent to deliver, and he has had the same impact in attracting quality staff. Andreas Kornmayer, for example, left Bayern Munich as one of the top fitness coaches in European football to join Liverpool, after Klopp approached him.
The impact and influence of Klopp’s talent have been key in Thomas decision to join Liverpool. Working with Jürgen Klopp is something that many in the football universe desire to do and Thomas shares his experience with him so far:
It is fantastic to work with Jürgen Klopp because he is a very nice man, he is very kind to everyone he meets and he is also very high-skilled coach. But I think he is also very strong in getting knowledge, not only from his players, but also from the staff. So, he is looking at who can help the team, and who can help the staff in general, and I think that is the reason why he called me here in Denmark, because he knew that even though they had a good season, they could’ve been better at the throw-ins. All I know is that he is a fantastic man and it’s a total pleasure to work with him.
One thing that is clear when analysing Jürgen Klopp’s reign at Liverpool so far is that he’s always looking for improvement. In his second season, Liverpool finished 4th comparing to 8th in 2015/16. In 2017/18, Liverpool established themselves in the top four and reached the Champions League final, losing it narrowly. This season, The Reds are in the driving seat of the title race while also keeping their chances in the Champions League.
And this improvement does not only come in their places in the table and how far they get in competitions; it is reflected in their style of play. Liverpool came from a team that had an inconsistent defence with explosive attacks to a team that has great game management with a solid, well-organized system. Klopp fixed their biggest holes and also identified the throw-ins as an aspect he could improve.
Thomas work at Liverpool is not a full-time role, but he analyses throw-in situations and compiles monthly reports. His main task is to work with the full-backs, but it also involves how attacking and midfield players move and position themselves on the pitch:
When it comes to the throw-in technique, precision and everything, I work mainly with the full-backs, like Andy, Trent or Joe and all the other full-backs from the club, but I’m also working with the movement of the players, how we can create space when we have throw-in under pressure, also the tactics. I’m roughly working, approximately, a week per month in Liverpool and on the other weeks I’m analyzing the games here from Denmark and sending reports to Jurgen and the other coaches. So, I’m working with every throw-in on the pitch, both attacking and defending. There are approximately 40 to 50 throw-ins in a match, there are a lot of situations in a game.
The improvement Liverpool full-backs have been making in throw-ins is remarkable. There a big amount of situations where Liverpool have been able to take advantage of positioning themselves correctly in an opposition throw-in and creating opportunities from them. Also, Liverpool offensive throw-ins have been even more dangerous than it was before. On the defensive side, it is getting rarer to see Liverpool conceding a chance coming from a throw-in. All of this is thanks to Thomas’ coaching technique.
His philosophy consists of three types of throw-ins: the long, the fast and the clever, all of which have different purposes and routines:
A lot of people think that throw-in coaching is only about long throw-ins, but I’m coaching the long, the fast and the clever throw-ins. The long throw-in is of course to get the players to throw longer. I’m coaching 25 to 30 technical aspects with video analysis, but it is very important that the full-backs are throwing longer, because even though the team is not taking a lot of long throw-ins and we don’t do that in Liverpool, despite Joe Gomes improving into one of the world bests, it is very important for a full-back because the longer throw, the greater throw area you can have. The fast throw-in is about taking the throw-in fast or doing as a counter-attack because it can’t be offside in throw-in. Then we have the clever throw-in, which is keeping possession when you have throw-in under pressure. Most teams lose the ball in more than 50% of occasions when they have throw-in under pressure, it is very important to keep the ball because you can, otherwise you can give a great chance for the opposition.
Improvement should always come in the way of a football club seeking to become a dominant force. Liverpool have found in Thomas Gronnemark and in throw-ins a way to improve and become even better.
It is a natural part of any long-term project. You start fixing the biggest holes and then try to find the little things that can get you even further. For those that don’t watch the throw-ins closely, the improvement will be difficult to notice. However, as an underestimated aspect of the game, their importance is highlighted when a top club pursues ways to get better on it.
Secondly, on a more personal note, The Final Whistle will stop to produce content during the next two years. This is thanks to the fact the main author — aka myself — will become a full-time missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for the period of two years. He will be serving in the England London Mission and will have 100% of his focus on helping people and fulfilling his missionary purpose.
Once his missionary service is completed, the website will come back with its normal activities.
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