Thomas Gronnemark received the dream phone call completely out of the blue.
“I was on a trip with my family and we were going to visit a chocolate shop,” Gronnemark tells The Sportsman.
“My phone went and it was an English number. I thought: ‘It’s a company selling something’ but then I listened to my answer phone... it was Jurgen Klopp!
“I called him back but he didn’t answer. I went to the chocolate shop but all I kept thinking was ‘it’s best to get home to take the most important call of my life’.”
Gronnemark is the world-renowned throw-in coach from Denmark and a top manager was trying to contact him. He had to take the call.
“Suddenly the phone rang again, my wife looked and she said ‘It’s Jurgen!’ I took the car and drove directly into a grass field,” he says, stressing it was safe to do so.
Having read an article about Gronnemark in German sports publication Bild, the Reds gaffer was keen to chat. Despite reaching the Champions League final in 2018, Liverpool had finished fourth in the Premier League and Klopp was looking to gain any slight advantage over his rivals.
The pair met and, a day later, Klopp employed Liverpool’s new throw-in coach. The Merseysiders have been reaping the rewards since.
Gronnemark was a keen Reds follower long before Klopp’s call but has since seen the Merseysiders conquer Europe and top the table. He doesn’t simply tell the players to throw the ball far, though: “I don’t teach them to be the Stoke of old!” he insists.
“It’s the long throw, the fast throw and the clever throw... “L.F.C.” he explains, pointing each letter out on his fingers.
“What makes a good throw? While Liverpool don’t use many long throws, it’s important how far the full-backs and wingers can throw as the throw-in area you have is vital.
“The fast and clever throws are not only about the thrower but the entire team.
“How do you create space? It’s about how to keep the ball because a throw-in under pressure is one of the most difficult things to do. You have to be precise and see space but your team-mates have to create space too.”
Thanks to minute detail and reams of knowledge, Gronnemark is the expert and a Guinness World Record holder too.
Throwing 51.33 metres at a girls football camp in his homeland, nobody has launched a ball further. “That was a flip throw,” he says, explaining how one person could fire such a gargantuan effort.
With a background in athletics, as well as being a former member of the Denmark bobsleigh team, his back story is fascinating. He is extremely sporty.
It was as a keen footballer in his formative years that he discovered his talent. Desperate to emulate his older cousins, he wanted to copy them and their long throws. Within a few years he was excelling in the art.
“I found out I was pretty good. I remember a local game in front of 200 spectators. I took a throw and it hit the crossbar, like a shot! The people watching gasped: ‘Woah!’”
After growing wearisome of the sometimes lonely life of an athlete, he decided to pursue a career as a throw-in coach.
Having found zero information on the topic at his local library and very little on the internet, he devised his own drills. He took a punt on local teams and Valbo FF invited him down.
FC Midtjylland, winners of the Danish Superliga in 2015 and 2018, and AC Horsens followed. Brentford, heavily influenced by Denmark behind the scenes, also utilised Gronnemark’s services. The demand grew and grew.
“I spent time with RB Leipzig for a month, only focussing on long throw-ins… Ralf Rangnick asked me, almost the same time Jurgen called,” he says with another proud grin.
He works on a freelance basis, flying over to coach Liverpool on throw-ins one week a month.
“I now work with five teams in Europe. Gent in the Europa League... I have a Champions League team, not from England, which is secret now,” he teases.
“It may sound weird saying it’s secret but it was the same with Liverpool - until the August it was only my wife and kids who knew because they were in the car.
“Nobody from my family knew, my mother, brother, they didn’t know, I didn’t tell my friends. And the club didn’t say anything. I think it was perhaps leaked as people in Liverpool knew at least and then it just exploded!”
In a world where everything is analysed to the nth degree, Gronnemark is baffled that throw-ins avoid scrutiny.
“When there is a bad throw-in on TV, the commentators, pundits, everyone, they don’t say anything…” he shouts, perplexed. “But if you make a bad pass with your feet, ‘Oh, he shouldn’t be on the team’.
“I see many bad throws. There is no difference between Sunday League throws and Premier League throws. The quality is very low and with the current football culture everyone expects the throws to be bad.”
He makes a good point. Revealing more than 50% of throw-ins taken in ‘pressure situations’ (ie towards goal), are unsuccessful, he’s been impressed by Liverpool’s upturn since he came in to the set-up.
“I’m very proud of the improvements the players have made, from Jurgen saying we were losing the ball to keeping it for 70-100% of the time.
“A good example is the first game against Norwich. Liverpool kept possession from throws 83.3% of the time.
“You can see the difference and it’s down to the basics. If you have the ball you can score.
“Even City, Arsenal, Barcelona... while they don’t do the long throw-in, the full-backs need to throw far to give them better options. If you have a technical team you put pressure on.”
While Gronnemark is clearly the authority, he insists there isn’t a science behind his techniques and his work is simply about opening the players’ minds.
"Jurgen said before the Champions League final: ‘Now we have eighteen more throws because of Thomas.
“It’s not like a playbook in American Football, it’s more about a philosophy.
“I’m not a scientist. To be a scientist you study but don’t always know what works. I’ve seen thousands of football games and can see what works.”
Gronnemark’s know-how has certainly aided the Reds but he believes the amazing atmosphere that Klopp has nurtured, as well as the positivity that winning breeds, has been key.
“There’s a great feeling and it’s one of the strengths about Liverpool,” he says. “Melwood in general, the people take care of you.
“I’ve been with 25 pro clubs in 15 years but at Liverpool it is different. People are laughing, not because they are not serious but they enjoy their job.”
And working with Klopp, one of the best managers of the 21st century, is not something Gronnemark takes for granted.
“It’s totally surreal, it’s like a dream. We all have fantastic dreams but then you wake and you’re totally disappointed. I had the same dreams at Melwood but they’re real and so confusing for the brain.
“When I’m with the team, I’m not nervous but sometimes I think ‘Where am I?!’
“Jurgen is sat there, Salah, Bobby [Firmino] and I’m talking with them like I’m talking with you. If I had to draw one dream in my life, besides my fantastic family and kids, it’s this and it’s crazy.”