Liverpool’s rise back to glory is one of Jurgen Klopp’s most incredible – probably best – achievements. His peers – coaches, his players (past and present) – wax lyrical about his attention to detail, and perhaps his best trait: humility. And his recipe for winning is very simple: he surrounds himself with experts; experts on every possible intricate detail you can think of. Whether it’s assistant coaches, Nutritionists, Psychologists, or one of the most talked about additions to the Klopp staff – Liverpool’s throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark.
For many ’old school’ football fans, the idea of a throw-in coach might sound strange, but Liverpool’s improvement in the throw-in department, and the amount of goals created via throw-ins (some are, admittedly ’pre-assists’) captures Gronnemark’s impact. LFC Transfer Room writer Damien Hillen (@DamienHillen) spoke to Thomas Gronnemark about the importance of throw-ins in football, Liverpool’s improvement, his life at Melwood, and even a few stories regarding his career, as well as a book he is currently working on.
1. What is your take on the importance of throw-ins in football, and the difference it makes when it is worked on meticulously, especially given the success at Liverpool?
“In the 17/18 season before I came, Liverpool kept possession (after) ‘throw-ins under pressure’ (at a percentage) of 45.4% (compared to) all teams over Europe, (and) they were third to last in the Premier League. In the first season with Liverpool, we improved (the percentage) to 68.4% and went from number 18th in the Premier League to No.1, and No. 2 in Europe just behind FC Midtjylland – one of my other teams…
Some say throw-ins are only a marginal gain in football – ‘a small thing’ – but it is not (just) a marginal gain. In a match, you have 40 to 60 throw-ins. It’s by far the most common set-piece. There are more throw-ins than free kicks and corners (put) together, so it is really important…
Now, if we go to the 2019/20 season – we have scored 13 goals after throw-in situations. We are doing specific things to create spaces, so we can keep the ball and score goals after throw-ins. There are not many people that see this in goals. People don’t really analyze that. For example, the winning goal against Tottenham, or the winning goal against Wolves, the media don’t really see this”.
2. Talk to us about the time Jurgen Klopp called you, and about your experience working at Melwood with the players and the staff.
“It was crazy when Jurgen called! The first crazy thing was when I listened to the voice mail. I had my phone on silent, and then suddenly I saw a +44 number, so I was in shocked because It was always my dream to coach in the Premier League, especially for a club like Liverpool. It was just like wow! Later he called me again, and we had a good chat there and (then he) invited me to Melwood. He said over the phone that they had a good season in 17/18 year: fourth place in the Premier League and Champions League Final, and that they were really bad in throw-ins. They lost the ball almost every time. We saw later in analytics that they were 18th out of 20 in the Premier League, so he was right about that…
Then I came to Melwood, and met Jurgen in person. Talking to him was like talking to your best friend, or a really fantastic family member. That’s the way it is to talk with Jurgen. He is a great listener, he listens, listens, listens, he is also funny! We talked (about) a lot of things, especially since I also speak German – so we spoke a bit of German as well…
It’s been fantastic to coach Liverpool. For me it is like dreaming, I am living a fantastic dream! The first two or three weeks, I dreamt that I was coaching Liverpool FC, then I would wake up and say ‘oh, it was only just a dream!’ but then I realized it was real, so it was messing with my brain (jokes). I think I went to the first training camp in France at the end of July, and that’s when I started to realize what I was in the middle of. For me, I am often pinching my arm, even after two years of training (with) Liverpool…
Even though I am not in Liverpool every week, I am with the team six or seven weeks per season, and I am also analyzing every match on video, and then sending throw-in analysis to Jurgen and the staff. Sometimes my visits are three or four weeks long, or some times they could go up to two months”.
4. Have other clubs started trying to look for you?
“Since my arrival at Liverpool, a lot of clubs have realized the importance of throw-ins in football, (and) that there are 40 to 60 throw-ins (on average) in a match. Most teams are losing the ball in more than 50% of the cases when they have a throw-in under pressure and so many situations…
It would be directly stupid not to work with it. That’s the main reason why so many big clubs have contacted me. Of course, Jurgen Klopp was the first, and Ralf Ragnick from RB Leipzig last season, he also contacted me around the same time as Klopp, both had the courage to contact me at a time where throw-ins weren’t as big in international football as they are now”.
5. Is there anything that stands out at Liverpool in comparison to the other clubs that you have coached at?
“Liverpool is a fantastic club. There is a principle… ‘(it’s not that) I have to be good’, its more of a ‘WE have to be good’. It’s really focused on how we can use the value and knowledge from all the staff. We are really big about giving value to each other. People are really kind and friendly. (It) is a balance of between being 100% serious, and having a fantastic time, (and) being like a family and having fun!
I am also a motivational speaker in Denmark, I’ve been doing more than 500 talks in Denmark, and I always say that what Liverpool FC have is unique. What they have is heartwarming, like family, a fantastic work environment. You are motivated to give it all and help them give their maximum. But it comes down to the leader, and right now (it) is Jurgen Klopp and his personality; he brings a lot to the culture”.
6. Have you been involved with the youth team in any capacity?
“I have been coaching many times the U23’s, U18’s, U16’. I also had a whole week educating the coaching staff of Liverpool. I even (coached) the U10’s and like 40-50 coaches with me this week just doing talks and education. For me, this is very important; the fact that we are bringing throw-ins into the game. I like to work with young players and kids. For example, if we have a talented fullback like Nico Williams in the young team, and then suddenly he has some games in the first team; if he isn’t into throw-ins and mechanisms and technique etc, he’ll get in trouble in the first team, that’s why throw-ins should be integrated into the academy, and that is the way it is in Liverpool.
7. Do you support a certain team? Or do you follow all of the teams you’ve coached?
“I am not a traditional fan, where you only choose one team and then you forget about any other clubs. But if I had to choose one team in the Premier League that I love the most, then it would be Liverpool FC. I was at Anfield in 2012 with my son to see Liverpool vs Stoke – he was with me last season too, so if I had to choose a club it would be Liverpool. For me, it is almost like family – the club, the players and the staff, I just love to be there. But I am also a freelance coach. I am pretty sure that if the club came to me and said if I wanted to sign a 10-year contract I would probably say yes! (jokes). I have to be realistic and to say I am like a free agent every summer. We will see what happens next season”.
8. What is the first thing you taught or said to the players?
“The first thing I said to the players was that ‘most teams lose the ball more than 50% of the occasions at throw-ins. If you lose possession more than 50% in normal situations in the middle of the pitch you wouldn’t be playing professional football, you would be playing Sunday league football!’…
Klopp (then) said after me: ‘we had a good season last season, but we were really bad at throw-ins. I tried to do something myself but didn’t really work, so we brought in Thomas, and be open-minded about the things he is doing’.
A month or so after I arrived, Andy Robertson said a lot of nice things about me in a press conference for the Scottish national team, and he already improved a lot there, so I think the players are really buying into it”.
9. Who would you say has improved the most in the throw-in department?
“The team has improved the most. A lot may think about individuals, of course, we have to improve individuals but the whole team has bought into it, and improved. Sometimes I’m only coaching the fullbacks, sometimes two groups of 9, or groups of 5, or 11 v 11. That’s the improvement I am most proud of…
Robbo improved really fast, he was okay at first, pretty good but now he has become world-class. Trent improved, but it took a little longer. After six months or so, he went into the same world-class level as Robbo. We have the best throw-in fullback pair in the world, but also we are the best throw-in team in the world right now, so I am really proud”.
10. To finish off, tell us a bit about what you are doing now, and what you hope to do in the future. We know you are writing a book, and that you also have another one out in Danish.
“Yes! I am writing a book about throw-ins. I can publish it this year, but I am waiting. I could also publish it in a year or so, but it depends. It’s about strategy because right now I am the only one in the world with the knowledge I have. Maybe I’ll just coach clubs first and then publish it later in the future. I want to help amateur and youth coaches, and it has all my secrets in there…
I also have a best selling book in Denmark, that translates to ‘Lazy energy’ in English. It’s about the ‘Seven Lazy Principles’. I will publish that later in English. I am rewriting it too because the translations are not the same in English. The book is about how we can achieve our dreams without going down in stress. In this book, I have seven principles, one of those (the 5th one) is to ‘let others do the work’ but not in the way it sounds, more like sometimes it is much better to ask for help from people that have more knowledge than you – very similar to Jurgen Klopp and what he did with me. We live in a world where ‘I have to be really fantastic’ or ‘I have to know it all’ but sometimes, it is better to get knowledge from other people”.
For more here’s the link to Thomas Groonemark’s official website – https://thomasgronnemark.com/