A long road, and many a throw
An Interview with Thomas Gronnemark
Text: Zachary A. Marx
Expats, almost by definition, are the type of people with big dreams, who come from unusual backgrounds, who think outside of the box. Although not an expat, this also perfectly describes Thomas Gronnemark. Gronnemark is a professional throw-in coach from Denmark. He was also an Olympic bobsledder and held the Guinness world record for the longest throw-in. Despite all odds, he’s now coaching some of the top clubs in Europe, most notably Liverpool FC.
"It’s totally OK that you’re laughing,” Gronnemark said “I’m laughing myself, and sometimes I say it’s the weirdest job in the world. But the fact that we are laughing about my job says it all."
What does it say? Simply, we would not be laughing about it if he were not succeeding. And like the long and bumpy road that many expats face when moving to a new country, including Denmark, Gronnemark’s path to success was not so straight forward.
He started coaching throw-ins for Viborg in 2004, before moving on to FC Midtjylland a few years later. However, these clubs were only interested in his long throws. In Midtjylland’s case, they used long throw-ins to devastating effect, scoring 35 goals in 4 seasons and winning two Superliga titles while Gronnemark was involved with the club.
However, Gronnemark thought he had much more to offer. He wanted to offer what he calls “The whole package: cleaver, fast, and long throw-ins.”
“As the years went by, I got more and more frustrated, because the clubs – even though I had a lot of success – the clubs only wanted my knowledge around the long throw-in. Like ‘how can we take as many long throw-ins as possible, how can you develop the players with the long throw-ins?’” Gronnemark explained.
“So it was successful, but I was frustrated because you can only take a few long throw-ins in a match and there are all the other throw-ins around the pitch. I just wanted to give that knowledge to clubs because they were losing the ball nearly every time they had a throw-in.”
In 2018, after 14 years of coaching mostly long throw-ins for Danish clubs, he got his chance from an unlikely place. Liverpool Football Club, one the most storied clubs in England and Europe, fresh off of a defeat to Real Madrid in the Champions League Final, came calling for him. Indeed, it was world-famous manager Jurgen Klopp who called Gronnemark directly.
The results speak for themselves. Since Gronnemark started working with Liverpool in the summer of 2018, they have won the Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup. And this year, Liverpool ended their 30-year English title drought.
When Gronnemark first came to Liverpool, there were segments of the media who were openly mocking him. Who needs a throw-in coach? But it was precisely this outside of the box thinking that helped Liverpool – and Gronnemark – succeed.
“I’m not a football coach. I don’t have any football education. I’m totally sure that if I had taken youth coaching education, then [coaching certifications] UEFA C, B, A, and then Pro, I’d never be a throw-in coach, because when you’re in an environment and not developing a lot, or doing things that they did 5 or 10 or 30 years ago, then it’s really hard to be innovative.”
According to Gronnemark, his success in this one area of specialisation is because of, not despite his unique background.
His story is also one that gives me hope as an expat. It is the story of a dreamer who had a passion and skill set they wished to share with the world, and just needed the right opportunity to prove themselves. It is fair to say that Thomas Gronnemark got the last laugh.