“The big breakthrough came in early July 2018 when Jürgen Klopp called me,” Thomas Gronnemark, Liverpool’s throw-in expert, tells These Football Times. The Danish coach is undoubtedly the leading global authority helping football clubs maximise their strength in this area of the game.
Where once the sideline restart was a neglected and overlooked part of the sport, Gronnemark has since begun reshaping the conversation, forcing many people to sit up and take notice. “My big goal of course is to help the clubs I’m coaching, but my biggest goal is to develop football so that throw-ins are better,” Gronnemark explains.
His appointment at the Reds raised a few eyebrows when it first took place. Some questioned the value of the role and wondered what impact such a position could have on the club’s future.
Brought in during the summer two years ago, just a few weeks after the Merseyside outfit had suffered a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Real Madrid in the Champions League final, it was an interesting move. It could easily have been perceived as a panicked push by beaten finalists to make a quick gain without any deep thought behind the move, but in reality it turned out to be something much more positive than that – an analytical marvel.
Although the club and Gronnemark have endured plenty of questions and flak from outside, they have ultimately had the last laugh. Liverpool have improved many aspects of their performance in order to become Premier League champions-elect and Club World Cup holders, as well as Champions League winners, but the drafting in of Gronnemark has certainly been one of the most eye-catching manoeuvres.
Gronnemark is an influential figure who is helping to recalibrate peoples’ perceptions of throw-ins, and the overall game as a result, but he is also modest in not wanting to blow his effect on Liverpool’s success out of proportion.
Liverpool have fostered a cohesive, siege mentality that pits them against the rest of the world. Under Klopp, the Kopites have seen their side blossom from a gegenpressing machine that came close to honours against all the odds into a silverware-addicted club who crave win after win.
But how much of an impact has Gronnemark had? And does he think that his arrival has made the difference in the club’s transformation from nearly-men to title-clinchers? “It’s always hard to say if it’s seven percent, 15 percent, or 21 percent [of an improvement] but I can say that you can see on the page, and the statistical analysis, that Liverpool has really improved,” he says.
It’s clear that Gronnemark believes in his abilities and in the influence he is having on the team, but he is not relying on blind self-indulgence to give credence to his part in the awesome growth of the Reds. Rather, he is backing himself based on the unbiased numbers and data, which clearly tell the story of a trail-blazing mind who has become an important part of their artillery.
Another aspect he is totally confident about is that football’s delayed turn to pay attention to the effect of throw-ins is not simply a reactive move to find another quick win. For him, the clubs he is working with now – Liverpool, Ajax, FC Midtjylland and others – can see the long-term value in improving their throw-ins. “The only thing I can say is that people are calling throw-ins ‘marginal gains’ but I think that’s a really bad misconception because it’s not a marginal gain,” he explains.
“If you look at throw-ins, if you look at the situation just before the throw-in is given and then the following situation, the defending and attacking throw-ins are taking approximately 15 to 20 minutes of a match. In Liverpool, [before his arrival] for possession of throw-ins under pressure the club had 45.4 and were number 18 out of 20 in the Premier League, third last. Last season we went to an increase of 33 percent, and went from number 18 to number one in the Premier League.”
Clearly, Gronnemark’s presence on the training pitch is having a positive effect from a purely statistical point of view. The Danish supremo has really nailed down the best way to get Klopp, the players, and the rest of the staff to buy into his methods. Not only do they like his approach and his philosophy but they are putting it into practice in matches.
Improving possession retention and decreasing the risk of conceding goals from throw-ins deep in your own half is one thing, but for the fans, one of the most important results would be the number of goals that they are scoring from throw-ins.
As Gronnemark outlines, they are turning throw-in related possession into converted strikes. So, the team’s investment in this area is having an impact where it matters most. “This season, we also scored 13 goals from throw-in situations all around the pitch. And it’s not the long throw-ins towards the opponents’ goal because we’re not doing that at Liverpool,” says Gronnemark, before going on to define why they are not harnessing the power of this tactic.
“We could also easily score ten goals in Liverpool with the long throw-ins because Joe Gomez has a really world-class throw-in – we saw that in the match between England and Croatia a li