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 Grønnemark.
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 Grønnemark’s impact.
In the 17/18 season before Gronnemark arrived at Liverpool, the team kept possession after throw-ins under pressure only with 45.4%, which was the third last in the Premier League. In the first season with Liverpool, they improved to 68.4% and went from number 18th in the Premier League to No.1, and No. 2 in Europe just behind FC Midtjylland – another team coached by Gronnemark for throw-ins.
Today, Grønnemark works for teams like Ajax, RB Leipzig and Gent, alongside the English powerhouse Liverpool. As the first throw-in coach in the history of football, he basically wrote his own curriculum and created his own program. In a truly innovative fashion, now he is regarded as the top expert in throw-ins. As Altınordu FK, we are always looking for new innovative ways in football and Grønnemark’s story is an inspiring innovation story.
Arda Alan Işık
Since you already established yourself in the football industry, I do not want to go into the classic questions of how this journey all started and everything. Because I think you told these stories already to other news outlets. I am more interested in your mindset in the beginning of this journey. You played football when you were young, then you did athletics and then bobsleigh, but after these you all of a sudden switched to throw-in coaching. How did this transition happen? How did you see and seize this opportunity as an innovator?
You can say I've always been really innovative through my whole life, also as a kid doing weird things in school too. But you know, all these ideas started in the middle of my bobsleigh period in the Danish national bobsleigh team when I made this long throw-in in an indoor football match as a warmup against the German bobsleigh team. They were all stunned and I thought "Hey, if I can make a good throw-in, because I was able to do that as a footballer, why can't I teach all the players to do it?" The reason why I got this innovative idea was that I took all my ideas, knowledge and experience from football, athletics, bobsleigh and many other areas.
I think that's one of the reasons why I like to put different things together. I think a lot of people could learn from that because often we tend to stay where we are in life and use the experiences that you think are relevant right now. But I think everyone can have a big advantage of getting knowledge, not only from your own different backgrounds, but also from other people's different backgrounds. So, you know, I think that was like the spark what gave me that idea. And then six months later, I made a throw-in course there in the fall 2004. Because I was brave enough to ask a professional team first and not a youth team, I started at the Danish super league. So being innovative, trying to find knowledge and research, not only from your own background, but also from other people, I think that's one of the key elements to being innovative.
Arda Alan Işık
How do you see the impact you have made in the industry? We all know that the clubs are now approaching you, requesting your expertise and work. Do you know other research into throw-in, other ideas, like people who come up with different points of view maybe? Is there now a community around throw-in coaching? How has the football industry changed since you introduced this innovative way?
I think there's been changes to the football world regarding throw-ins. But as I can see, it's mostly two things: Firstly, teams try to copy Liverpool and try to do the same thing. I think one of the biggest mistakes around that is that a lot of people think my throw-in coaching is like a playbook in American football. When Liverpool scores after a throw-in some people say: "Hey, Roberto Firmino ran there, Mohammad Salah ran there, they created space and then the scored. If we do the same movements, we can also score." No, that's totally wrong. I'm coaching the players’ throw-in intelligence; seeing space, seeing movements, a lot of different options and opportunities. So, in theory, my teams have thousands of options. I think our approach changes football. But I think a lot of teams are trying to copy the solutions.
Secondly, I see some teams who are like "Okay, we have two solutions in defence or two solutions in the midfield, and then we have two solutions in the final-third". But hey, if you only have two or three solutions in these areas it's way too easy for the opponents to read you. So, yes, on the one hand I've seen a lot of positive improvement in the football world, especially since I have been with Liverpool FC. But on the other hand, I also see a lot of people are taking a traditional approach to throw-ins. So, there is still a lot of things to be done, a lot of improvement and development.
Arda Alan Işık
This is very interesting because you say it is not clear set pieces or clear instructions. Then, is it some sort of instinct of the player or a way of improvisation? Because if it is not direct instructions, how do they improvise?
I like to come with an example from 10 years ago. We had Barcelona with tiki-taka. It was not like in Barcelona's training they said "Okay, Messi you run there. Xavi you run there and Iniesta you run 50 meters over there". No, they had a lot of drills to get the understanding as the whole team. And that meant that they could do this tiki-taka football thousands of ways around the pitch, because if they only had like three or four options, it would be way too easy to defend.
It's the same with my throw-in coaching. Of course, I'm in the staff, I'm learning the place and sometimes teams are only interested in long throw-ins. But most of my teams are focused more on the fast and clever throw-ins. So what I do there again is precision and teaching them basic space creation. Because football players are not used to create space when there is a normal throw-in, they don't know the basics. The length of runs, how to make decoy runs and how to observe your teammates running and etc. I'm also teaching them how to defend against opponent throw-ins. I'm teaching them the fast throw-ins; How to throw the ball fast and how to mark the opponents fast. But it is not as simple as some people think, "Hey, it's about throwing the ball fast all the time". No, that's one of the most stupid things you can do if you're throwing to a teammate who's under pressure.
Then I'm teaching them some basic tools of space creation. There are thousands of ways to create space, because you have different number of players, you have different amounts of space, you must find different angles. Then on top of that, I'm using what I'm calling individual throw-in superpowers because some players are good at protecting the ball, some are good with their first touch, some players are fast and so on. I create training plans according to the different needs of teams and players.
Arda Alan Işık
You have also talked about the importance of possession, controlling the ball in other interviews. When you have the ball you naturally don't concede a goal. This is a huge defensive bonus, but it also brings some sort of football philosophy with itself as well. It is going beyond only throw-ins. How your philosophy interact with the managers you work with? For instance, you worked with Jürgen Klopp at Liverpool and he has a clear football philosophy. How do you mediate between these philosophies?
First of all I like to say that I'm coaching everything around throw-ins. So not only the throw, but also the movement on the pitch, attacking and defending and so on. I spend a good amount of time to fit my coaching style into the club' playing style. Like Liverpool's strategy is counter-pressing and I adapted my coaching according to that. I had a long period with FC Midtjylland and in four years we scored 35 goals from long throw-ins, meaning nine goals per season. I fit in my coaching into their style of play. I was with Ajax and then play very differently than Liverpool. At every club I work for, I used to a lot of time to speak with the head coach, the managers, the sporting director and the players.
Added to that, I often do video analysis of the games. So I really try to feed my coaching in. It's not like I come and say, "Hey, I'm the throw-in coach. Now we have to do exactly what I say". No, I try to listen a lot. I try to analyze a lot. I think that's one of my strengths as a freelance coach, because yes, I'm traveling all around the world, so I must adapt to other people. So again looking both at the team's playing style I develop the progression of the team regarding the throw-ins. I use a lot of time to feed into the team's playing style.
Arda Alan Işık
I think you would still say that there are three types of throw-ins that you emphasize; long, clever and fast. I think your new book, which will be published soon, has the same title. Even though the tactics and strategies change, I think throw-ins mostly revolve around these three categories. Can you tell us a bit more about these categories?
Yeah, first of all, I would say that, that, that my book about the long, the fast and the clever throw-ins has not yet been published. I don't know when it will be published, perhaps in one year, perhaps in three years, perhaps in five years, I've already been writing over 110,000 words. So of course I've been writing a lot, but for me, it's both a matter of time to write the book, but it's also a matter of strategy. Would I publish now or would I keep my secrets a little bit longer? So let's see when the book would come out.
But again, long, fast and clever throw-ins, what are they exactly? First, the long throw-in. I'm using 30 different technical parameters using a video analysis tool. Most of my players improve between 5 and 10 meters, some even 15 meters. For example, I had a guy from Austria who improved from 25 to 40 meters. I had another player from FC Midtjylland, who improved from 24.25 meters to 37.90 meters, almost 14 meters. He was then sold to Borussia Mönchengladbach for 3-4 million Euros. I focus on widening the throw-in area, because the longer you can throw the more players you can throw to.
On the other hand, Liverpool and Ajax don't use the long throw-ins because that's not the club's playing style. Then we have the fast throw-ins, which means to get the ball fast, react fast and throw the ball fast. For example, in the last season at Liverpool we were the fastest team in the Premier League to throw the ball. Some might think "Hey, then we have to throw it fast". No, the real magic lies in getting it fast, reacting fast, and then see if there is a good option.
If there's a good, fast option without pressure, then throw it fast. But if there's not a good fast option then don't throw it. I've seen teams throwing a lot of bad, fast throw-ins because they're throwing into pressure. So that's the first part of fast throw-ins. The second fast throw-ins are counter-attack throw-ins. You can't be offside in a throw-in, so it allows to strike faster and midfielders to create running patterns. Because normally in a free kick or just a ball in the middle of pitch you have to be aware of offside, but you don't have to do that in a throw-in. Then it can be a dangerous weapon when it comes to counter-attacks. It's important to be organized, fast and to communicate with your teammates well.
Thirdly we have the clever throw in sets. First of all, again, I start by teaching the basics of space creation because players don't know how to create space in that way. Because they only do that in the middle of the pitch, or in traditional set pieces like corners and free kicks. With my basic space creation method players can develop solutions in many situations. I'm teaching the players all three different categories with all in all around 50 different options. That's only basic options and that evolves into thousands of options depending on the situation. Also I try to develop individual throw-in superpower of the players, when they have a special ability.
Arda Alan Işık
How has your philosophy changed since you started working with Jürgen Klopp and Liverpool? You said in an interview that it changed your way of working and your work deeply. How has your work changed since in 2018?
It has affected me a lot. Of course being a Champions League winner with Liverpool, winning the Premier League, winning the FIFA Club World Cup were very important. In the meantime, we made Liverpool go from number 18 in the premier league to number 1 in the premier league with regards to throw-in possession under pressure. Of course, it meant a lot. Now many clubs request my coaching. But it's also meant a lot to me because up till 2018, the clubs only wanted my knowledge around long throw-ins. And yes, it's been a huge success of course, but at that time up to 14 years clubs did not want my knowledge around the fast and clever throw-ins and I had so much knowledge around it, but they didn't care.
When Jürgen Klopp invited me to Liverpool and said "Hey, you have a free role. You can teach everything you want. We are hundred percent sure that you can make a difference for us". Then it was like a dream come true for me, not only to work for Liverpool, but to be able to use all my knowledge. And of course working with 8 to 10 professional clubs around the world per season, since the last four seasons, it's been giving me a lot of experience too. Coaching the best players in the world and working together with the best managers, head coaches, assistant coaches in the world. I've been a better coach since I joined Liverpool.
Arda Alan Işık
It's not always that people come up with an game-changing idea in an industry like football, because it's very old and people usually play with traditional ideas. What do you advise to people who want to come up with innovative ideas in football?
I'm also writing a book about this at the moment. So perhaps that book will come before my throw-in book. First of all, people should look really, really deep into their subjects. I think some people just scratch the main idea a little bit and say "Hey, that's perhaps not so clever or someone else has thought about that". You know, with my throwing coaching, I didn't only use knowledge from football, from athletics, from bobsleigh, from basketball. I also did a lot of observations in nature regarding awareness around birds and so. Because that's same kind of awareness you can use around both attacking, but also defending throw-ins.
I've been also using some knowledge from the Roman warfare, several thousand years ago, where the Roman army moved in special ways to utilize their troops the most. Sometimes I go to museums, look at art. Then sometimes I see a pattern in a picture where I'm thinking "Hey, that could be like a good basic pattern in throw-ins". I'm going really deep into different kinds of knowledge which can be related to my subject. I think people should look at many ways to collect knowledge.
Then look at your own past, look at your own experience too, because a lot of people are just throwing their knowledge away. They say "Now I'm in a new area. I have to concentrate on that". No, you might use your former knowledge to strengthen your product, your team or your company. I think sometimes people are not brave enough combine knowledge.
Then another thing is feedback or criticism. Of course you should get all the good feedback, but also negative criticism. I changed a lot of exercises because either a head coach, a manager, an assistant coach or players have said: "Hey, couldn't we do it that way", and instead of saying "Hey, it has to be this way because I'm the throwing coach" I've said, "Let me think about it" and then I've changed it. And you know, It's been much better.
Added to that, I'm often on social media, like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and so on. Especially on Twitter, sometimes people say negative stuff but instead of blocking them I give them some knowledge about my work. I tell them for instance "Hey, did you know that there's actually 40-60 throw-ins in a match or that you use 15 to 20 minutes in a match on throw-ins and throw-ins related situations?". And then this person suddenly says "That was interesting. Did you know, I'm actually working on this and we use this and this…" and suddenly you have new knowledge. A lot of negative criticism can actually be used to create development. Sometimes gold lies beneath those criticisms.