Thomas Gronnemark’s appointment as throw-in coach at Liverpool certainly raised eyebrows.
The 42-year-old admits he has “the weirdest job in the world”, while Jurgen Klopp conceded he didn’t know such a specialist existed until he met the Dane last summer.
“After speaking with Thomas for just a few minutes, I was 100 percent sure I wanted to hire him,” said the Liverpool manager at the end of last season.
“He has made us all think before we throw and changed how players like [Roberto] Firmino move to receive the ball. Throw-ins aren’t just a way to restart play anymore. I think we have about 20 different types. I have lost count!”
Gronnemark believes the success of throw-ins shouldn’t be judged on goals scored or even chances created – it’s essentially too difficult to measure what comes indirectly from a throw – but whether possession is retained, particularly under pressure.
“Everyone focuses on the long throw and whether it leads to a goal,” says Gronnemark, who holds the world record for the longest throw-in at 51.33-metres.
“But that’s just one aspect. Equally as important is the fast or clever throw. These are often shorter. They can create space and have a surprise element.
“Most football matches have between 40-60 throw-ins. At Liverpool we don’t really use many long throws, though. The strategy is about retaining possession. So the first stat I look at is how often we succeed at this under pressure.
“Against Norwich [on the opening night of the Premier League season], Liverpool won the ball 83.3% of the time. Norwich did so 46.7%. Considering most teams only hold onto possession under pressure about half of the time, that’s not a bad number, but I suppose it underlines just how good Liverpool’s percentage is.”
Last season Liverpool retained possession under pressure from 70% [69.4%] of throw-ins. Champions Manchester City were second-best, but still almost 10 percent behind [62.8%].
Manchester United [41.8%], Tottenham Hotspur [39.7%], Huddersfield Town [36.5%] and Newcastle United [31.8%] were the Premier League’s most wasteful teams from throw-ins in this category.
“There really isn’t a team I have seen who couldn’t use a throw-in coach,” says Gronnemark, who also works with two-time Danish champions FC Midtjylland.
“Real Madrid and Barcelona are no exception. I can’t say employing one will lead to a certain amount of extra goals, but it will result in winning the ball more often and often in dangerous areas.
“What happens next is out of my control and in Liverpool’s case down to Jurgen and the players.
“To give a specific example. When Liverpool beat Bayern Munich in last season’s Champions League [quarter-final], we kept possession from throw-ins perfectly – at well over 70%. [In the second leg], Bayern lost the ball on seven out of every 10 throw-ins. That killed their rhythm and attacking momentum and, as importantly, gave Liverpool lots of chances on the counter-attack.”
Gronnemark might downplay the significance of the long throw, but he nonetheless works with various Liverpool players to improve their length, speed and delivery angles.
Pace and flatness are key, but too many throw-in takers opt instead for height, either through poor technique or ignorance as to what is effective.
“I think the best two long-throw specialists at Liverpool are Andy Robertson and Joe Gomez,” reveals Gronnemark. “Andy has improved his throwing distance from 19 to almost 30-metres in just over a year. Joe doesn’t take that many long throws for Liverpool, but showed what he can do for England against Croatia.
“The best long throw-in taker in England is still [former Stoke midfielder] Rory Delap. I believe he was a javelin thrower before football and that type of action is perfect. It’s long, flat and fast. If you have these three attributes, then you have a strong chance of assisting a goal.”
Gronnemark believes throw-ins could now make all the difference this season as Liverpool bid to win their first top-flight title since 1989-1990.
“Titles are won by fine margins,” he says. “If there are 40-60 throw-ins in a game, which equates to around eight minutes of play, it is going to help Liverpool to know they are the best team in the Premier League during this time.
“Defensively, we will concede less goals under pressure if both full-backs can throw long and clear danger. And at the other end it’s really all about imagination. For example, there is no reason why a left-sided player can’t throw from the right.
“With practice, skillful throw-in takers, who are long, fast and flat, can actually be more precise than a delivery from a free-kick. Throw-ins from the edge of the penalty area are especially dangerous when taken correctly.
“They can be scored from, flicked on or just generally cause problems. Ones closer to the corner flag are interesting, too. They offer a lot of opportunities to create space.
“But it’s not about only training the throw-in taker. The players have to know where to move as well. If you don’t have a plan, designed from the training ground, you can’t do this effectively. Thankfully Liverpool do and it should help them succeed and win trophies this season.”