When Thomas Gronnemark strolled into Melwood for the first time a few weeks ago, no one there knew who he was. It was the kind of moment when the curious souls may ask to see an ID card or visitors badge to ensure that they didn’t have an unwanted guest at the training complex. It turned out that he was here to help…with throw-ins.
Jurgen Klopp had recruited Gronnemark to help his side with taking the set-piece. What more is there to know than to stand upright, ensure good leverage and release at the right moment; that’s what some sat in a Qatari TV studio may lead you to believe. But this appointment of a specialised coach shows that Liverpool are leading the way in football.
There has long been much time at team practice afforded to perfecting free-kicks and corner routines. Players are urged to think of new ways to embrace their positions and consider how best to receive and pass the ball when in specific areas of the pitch. But little time has ever been given to throw-ins. As Gronnemark has said himself,
“If you have a thing going on 40 or 50 times a game, then you have to do something about it; you can’t just leave and say ‘Oh, that’s a throw-in. Doesn’t matter’.”
That’s where the new coach comes into play.
The love for throwing that Gronnemark so evidently possesses began in his native Denmark. He played youth football before representing his national athletics team in 100, 200 and 400 metres. Then came a spell with Denmark’s national bobsleigh team for four years. The initial throwing skills that he showed when playing football were harnessed by running and bobsleigh. Consequently, he decided to offer throwing lessons to anyone who wanted them, AC Horsens – a local Super League club – took up his offer.
But it was at FC Midtjlland that Gronnemark truly left his mark and led to this contract with Liverpool. The data-minded side saw great reward from his work. Midtjylland scored 19 goals from throws over the last two seasons alone, more than a goal every four matches. After working with Gronnemark on using his body shape more efficiently, Andreas Poulsen – a left-back, who has since moved to Borussia Monchengladbach – improved his throwing distance from 24 to 38 metres; he can now thrown into an area of 2250 metres, up from 920.
Gronnemark believes that there are ‘three kinds of throw-ins’, which he characterises as long, fast and clever. For each team, their specific style will dictate which is most useful. Perhaps Liverpool will require faster throw-ins more than anything else, given their quick transitions and relentless pressing.
“You cannot be offside on a throw-in, so that gives a lot of opportunities to run in some normally hidden areas on the pitch.”
Gronnemark points out; Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah will be sure to enjoy finding them.
Stoke City are the most memorable side to harness effective throw-ins, but that was more down to one individual’s talent – Rory Delap – than anything else. Still, for Stoke and Tony Pulis, it worked well. Interestingly, when Delap was in his pomp on the touchline, Stoke’s opponents were so desperate to not concede throw-ins close to their own goal that they often tried to play out from the back, usually in a panic, and Stoke would win the ball back high up the pitch – a situation that Liverpool and their attackers thrive in. Thus by harnessing throw-ins, it is not only about the throws but it is also what comes from the throws and instead of the throws.
There are signs that the part-time coach is already making a difference at Melwood. “To be honest, I’d never heard about a throw-in coach,” Klopp explained. “When I heard about Thomas, it was clear to me I wanted to meet him; when I met him, I was 100 per cent clear I wanted to employ him.” Joe Gomez, in particular, appears to be relishing enhancing his technique and his improvements have been noticeable in recent weeks.
“I focus on everything you can imagine,” adds Gronnemark.
“It is not just the throw technique, but how to receive it, how to make the right runs, the positioning, creating space.”
He also highlights that there are 25-30 technical aspects to a long throw and the use of video analysis to make improvements is imperative. Flexible rather than strong players are the best at throw-ins and it an essential skill for a full-back. “If Liverpool score a goal or two from long throws that would be perfect for me,” said Gronnemark.
According to Opta, there have been just 20 goals scored from a ‘throw-in scenario’ in the Premier League in the last five seasons and only one scored so far this season. It is a set-piece and a hugely undervalued one. Last season, Liverpool had just three shots from throw-ins, while Leicester City led the way with 14. Goals from fast throws and clever throws are impossible to measure, but Gronnemark says these have a “greater impact” on the game and can make the game faster and more entertaining – suiting Liverpool perfectly.
It may be one of the weirdest jobs in the world but in a game that every small detail matters and marginal gains are so often sought, it makes sense that Liverpool should use the knowledge that Gronnemark can offer. The hope is that, as it has already done in his native Denmark, his work will allow Liverpool to take advantage of the most undervalued set-piece of them all.