Here is the second and final part of Anfield Watch’s interview with Liverpool throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark.
Looking at specific players, who do you feel has improved the most at Liverpool specifically since you’ve been working with the group?
TG: I think that, before we go into players, I’ll just say that the team itself has been really improving because you can have some players who are improving and that will be fantastic, but if the whole team is not buying in, then it wouldn’t really work.
I’ll say that the player who has improved the most is the team. I know it’s a little bit crazy. I’ll say, of course, the players who have been improving the most, and who have the most influence – Robbo and Trent. Robbo improved improved really fast – but Trent took a little bit more time, but after six months, Trent came to a fantastic level.
So, from my point of view, I know I’m really subjective now because I’m coaching them myself, but for me, Robbo and Trent are the best two fullbacks with throw-ins in the world, but of course, it’s also because they’re playing for, from my point of view, the best throw-in team in the world.
I just think it’s—yeah, it’s just fantastic, the improvement the players have been showing. Of course, I could also mention Joe Gomez with his long throw-in, but we’re not really taking any long throw-ins towards the opponent’s goal, even though to throw long is really important for fullbacks in general because you have a greater throw-in area. Then, if we were a team who did a lot of long throw-ins towards the opponent’s goal, it could be really gainful. But, we’re not really using that. Everybody just really focuses on the training, I’m really happy about that, so yeah, it’s fantastic.
Sports pundit Andy Gra has been critical of you and your work during your time at Liverpool. I remember he even claimed that he could be the first kick-off coach. How did that make you feel and what would you say in response to those remarks?
TG: Oh, for me, it doesn’t really matter what he said. Of course, I noticed, I was also, like, surprised because to be honest, I’ve seen football shows on television before, but I just thought that like pundits and experts were informed and curious for new knowledge, and so I was actually more surprised by the way he talked, like it was almost a bit pub-like, like standing in a pub with a pint of beer.
It didn’t really matter for me because, first of all, I’d like to say that criticism is really, really important in life. I think one of the best things we have is criticism, but I think criticism is only really good when it’s either constructive or people are curious about what’s happening here. And, I’m developing every day because of criticism I’m being given from other people. For example, let’s take training at Melwood. Perhaps one of the coaches is saying, ‘Couldn’t we make the exercise here a little bit better if we put a small goal in here?’ Then, I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, perhaps that’s right, let’s bring the goal in.’ Or, one of the players was saying one time, ‘Couldn’t we make this exercise, instead of parallel to the pitch, let’s make it 45 degrees instead – would this be more relevant to the game?’ I thought I little bit about it, and then I said yes. So, criticism is really important.
Also, sometimes on social media, there are people writing to me that can’t understand it, ‘Can you inform me of that? Can you give me more knowledge?’ So, even though they’re making a criticism about me, they’re still curious and that’s fantastic. But, I think if you’re getting criticism that’s either not constructive, then I think it’s bad. And, I also think it’s bad if people are not curious. I don’t think that Andy Gray, you can also count in Steve Nicol – I don’t think that either of them were constructive, or curious. And, don’t misunderstand me because I don’t care if people are making fun of me because I’m also sometimes making fun of myself – but they have to put in the curious part of it. And so, Andy Gray could easily have been making fun of my throw-in coaching and saying that’s a funny thing and that’s crazy and imagine that—but I would wish that he’d been curious. He was just laughing at that, ‘That’s like the worst thing I’ve heard, let me be a kick-off coach’, or something like that.
I didn’t take it personally, but I was more disappointed about the level of professionalism. They could easily have called me before the show and said, ‘I think it’s crazy. I never heard about that before,’ I think it was a little bit sad. I didn’t really react on it emotionally, but I was just surprised again about the professionalism.
But, you can say the internet answered for me. A lot of people were calling him a dinosaur, the same with Steve Nicol also. I didn’t really have the need to do that myself, but I just think it’s—it was a little bit sad, yeah.
But it was okay for me. I can live with it, of course. There’s a lot of people supporting me, not only from Liverpool, but in general. So, yeah.
I saw your chat recently on liverpoolfc.com where you said that between the ’17-’18 season and this season, Liverpool have gone from number 18 in the premier league at throw-ins under pressure to number one. Can you just clarify, is that based on successful conversion rates or chances created?
TG: When I’m talking about the success of the throw-ins in Liverpool, I’m saying two things up. First of all, it’s about how much we keep the ball after throw-ins under pressure. And, throw-ins under pressure are where the players are marked. If we have a throw-in where we throw it back to Virgil van Dijk and the opponent is 20 metres away, it’s not under pressure. If there is no pressure at all, it doesn’t have any influence on something. But, I’m working with throw-ins under pressure.
There was some analysis back in September ’19, like half a year ago or so, that said in the ’17-’18 season before I came to Liverpool, Liverpool had a possession on 45.4% at throw-ins under pressure, and that was like number 18 in the Premier League, third last. And then, in the last season, the ’18-’19 season, we improved to a possession on 68.4%, so up by 23% and we went from number 18 in the Premier League to number one in the Premier League, and also number two in Europe, just behind one of my other teams FC Midtjylland from Denmark.
So, of course, that’s really good. And, normally, there are between 40 to 60 throw-ins in a match, so it’s really important. It has the same influence as if you’re losing the ball after a throw-in, you’re often caught out of balance, it’s really dangerous. And, if you’re keeping the ball, you’re keeping control and possession, but you’re also having the opportunity to create chances and score goals.
But, when I’m saying that in this season, the ’19-’20 season, that Liverpool has scored 13 goals after throw-in situations, it’s small throw-ins all over the pitch where we are doing something specific we’ve done in training with the three different zones, the different throw-in tools, and the player’s throw-in intelligence. That’s goals after these situations and it can both be like near the opponents penalty like the win against Tottenham and Wolves, but it can also be like from our own penalty area because that’s the hardest throw-in in football, when you’re near your own penalty area – because there’s more and more pressure, but if you come out of that pressure and doing something specific, then there’s a good chance of using that free or created space to score a goal.
And then, 3 of the 13 goals we scored after throw-in situations were after the opponent’s throw-in, so that shows that it can be really dangerous to lose the ball when you have a throw-in.
You’ve spoken about working with Liverpool as a team, but specifically looking at your relationship with Jürgen Klopp, how have you found working with him? He’s obviously the one who rang you up initially look at acquiring your services. How would you explain your relationship with Jürgen?
TG: First of all, he’s a fantastic man. When you’re speaking with him, he’s listening, he’s looking into your eyes. And, we know that in human communication that’s just so important. He’s just like a fantastic man to just be with.
He’s also funny; you can have fun with him and everything. Of course, when it has to be serious, it’s 100% serious, but again, like with the team and with the culture, I think it’s fantastic to like go from the serious side to the funny side. One of the things I really appreciate with Jürgen is that he’s really open-minded. Let’s go back to when he called me in early July 2018, imagine you’re one of the world’s best at something, he’s now one of the most influential managers in the world.
Imagine that you are calling up a pretty unknown specialist. I think that a lot of people who have a lot of power, have a lot of influence on football, they would like try to explain to me what to do or how to do things, but Jürgen was like, he said, ‘Yeah, we had a fantastic season in the ’17-’18 season with fourth place in the Premier League and a Champions League final, but we lost the ball almost every time when we had a throw-in. I tried to do something with the throw-ins. We tried to do it, but it didn’t really work.’
For me, you have to be a fantastic person, a courageous person to say that, ‘Okay, I’m not good enough in this area, I need some help.’ So, I think that’s one of the secrets to Liverpool’s success – that people are really giving it their all, trying to get the knowledge from other people.
It’s not about pushing other people down to get success; it’s more like raising each other up. So, perhaps it sounds a little bit like a cliché, but I think that’s what actually happens in Liverpool. That open-mindedness is coming also from the gaffer himself, from Jürgen, and of course it spreads all the way down, not only to the players, but the whole staff at Melwood itself. It’s a fantastic work environment.
The work culture in Liverpool FC is just really fantastic, and Jürgen Klopp is a big part of that. We could talk for several hours about all the amazing things that Jürgen Klopp is doing for Liverpool FC, but also how amazing a manager and person he is. It’s fantastic to work with him and in Liverpool FC.
There’s been some rumours about your future. What is next for you following this season when it eventually does conclude? I assume you’d like to stay on at Liverpool?
TG: I’m a freelancer and like I’m a free agent every summer, so I have to get new contracts. You could say that I’m open to everything. Of course, when you’ve been a part of Liverpool for two seasons, with winning the Champions League, the world championships for clubs, perhaps the Premier League, let’s see, we don’t know what happens now.
Of course, it could also always be good to continue because I think that the players have learnt so much about the throw-ins, I’ve been having an amazing time at the club too, and they can still learn even more – we’re not finished yet, but let’s see what happens. We haven’t made an agreement yet. Let’s see in a month or two, then I’m sure I’ll know more. I have a contract until the 30th of June here this year. But, of course, I’ve been having requests from other Premier League clubs also.
I could see myself continuing at Liverpool, of course. It would be stupid not to do that. But, like everything else in life, you also have to agree and there’s a lot of different things.
Let’s see what the future brings. I’ll say that my biggest dream is to improve the football game itself. There are so many bad throw-ins, not only in international leagues like the Premier League, Champions League, Bundesliga, and so on, but also in amateur and youth teams. You’ll know more in a couple of months.