Thomas Grønnemark: Liverpool’s throw-in guru
Written by Simon Austin — September 2, 2018
THOMAS GRØNNEMARK reacts with grace and good humour to Andy Gray's scornful remarks about the craft that’s consumed him for 15 years.
“I have no problem with what he said, because everyone is entitled to their opinion and debate is good,” the 42-year-old Dane tells TGG, "but perhaps he could be a little more curious."
The throw-in specialist is the latest addition to Liverpool’s coaching staff, having been recruited by Jurgen Klopp at the end of last season. When Gray was asked about the appointment on beIN SPORTS at the weekend, he mocked: “Here’s a lesson - pick the ball up, take it behind your head, throw it to a team-mate and keep both feet on the ground.”
Grønnemark may be amiable and unassuming, but the stats he uses to counter Gray are pretty devastating.
“On average, there are 40 to 50 throw ins per game,” he explains. “In fact when Liverpool played Brighton on Saturday, they had 54. That’s about 12 minutes per game taken up by throw-ins and situations arising from them.”
Teams tend to be very poor at them though.
“On average, they lose the ball more than half the time from under-pressure throw-ins, when their team-mates are closely marked.
“Have you noticed that the commentators never mention a bad throw-in during a game? I think it’s because there are so many and their expectations are very low. It becomes so they barely notice.”
Even the best teams are culpable, including Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final.
“Eric Abidal had a throw-in from the left back position close to his own penalty area,” Grønnemark remembers. “His technique was bad and the ball didn’t go very far, meaning possession was lost. Seven seconds later, Wayne Rooney scored for Manchester United.”
Grønnemark represented Denmark at both sprinting and bobsleigh before his footballing epiphany in 2004.
“I'd always been interested in football and found out there was no focus on throw-ins - no videos on YouTube, no courses, nothing. I’ve been thinking about throw-ins every day since.”
He's the world-record holder for the longest ever throw-in (which you can see below) - a mighty 51.33m effort achieved with an acrobatic flip technique in 2010 - although it's his work with FC Midtjylland and AC Horsens in his homeland that provides the strongest testimony for his craft.
Midtjylland scored 10 times from throw-ins last season as they claimed the Danish title. The improvement in the throwing of teenage defender Andreas Poulsen, who subsequently moved to Borussia Mönchengladbach, was particularly impressive.
Under Grønnemark’s tutelage, Poulsen improved his distance from 24.25m to 37.9m, which opened up a huge area of the pitch.
“Think about the throwing area,” Grønnemark says. “If you draw a half circle from the touchline to the area that Poulsen is able to reach, it’s gone from 923 to 2256 square metres, which is well over double.
“That creates so much more space between the players, which opens up a lot of attacking opportunities.”
So, despite what Gray may say, it's hardly a surprise that Klopp decided to hire the freelancer, who continues to work with Midtjylland as well as an unnamed Bundesliga team.
“When I met him, it was 100% clear I wanted to employ him,” the Reds manager said on Friday. "You cannot have enough specialists around you. I must always be the guy who makes the decisions on when we use them, but you cannot have enough.”
With Grønnemark on board, throw-ins could now become a key part of Liverpool’s attacking armoury, as former Midtjylland manager Glen Riddersholm explains.
“Because the opponent are not in their organised formation, you want to exploit their unbalance," he says. "So on the throw-in you can get the ball quick from the ball boys and throw a hard, deep, precise throw-in into the space behind.
“You have three very fast players at Liverpool - Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and especially Mohamed Salah.
"You need players who can throw accurate, hard and precise to release them. That's a skill.”
Grønnemark agrees: “I’m a former sprinter and love the fast, fluent game. I coach how to get the ball back very quickly after it goes out, how to keep possession, how to make the counter attack super-fast.”
Remember, also, that players can’t be offside from a throw-in, which makes them an even more potent part of the game.
Because of the terms of his contract with Liverpool, Grønnemark is unable to discuss the specifics of his work with the Anfield club.
“Some weeks we do two or three sessions, some weeks none at all," is all he can say. "I also analyse their throw-ins from every game and feed back to them, whether I'm there or not.”
Talking about his work in general, he describes his coaching as how to develop “long, fast and clever throw-ins.”
“Long, because players are improving the distance of their throws by 15 metres; fast, because of the counter-attacking opportunities; clever because you’re keeping possession of the ball.”
During his short tirade, former Scotland striker Gray also said: “I’ve got a new one - I want to be the first kick-off coach."
Well, Ted Knutson, CEO of data and analytics firm StatsBomb, has news for him.
“Clubs in Germany and Austria have been innovating on kick-offs for quite a while."
You can see an example below, with Red Bull Leipzig scoring less than nine seconds after kick-off against Stuttgart last October after deploying a seven-man attacking unit.
Knutson, who worked for Midtjylland when Grønnemark was there and describes him as an “excellent” coach, says set pieces are “massive and we’ve barely scratched the surface with them.”
Riddersholm puts it well: “In football everybody knows almost everything. You need something extra.”
After Nathaniel Chalobah worked with Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri at Napoli he said: "I’d never practiced a throw-in in my life. I got there and they had about 10 different signals and gave me a sheet of paper on my first day to study them.”
Perhaps, as Grønnemark says, it’s time for everyone to get a little more curious.