The proposal to introduce kick-ins represents a huge step back that would be the biggest rule-change mistake football has ever made, according to Liverpool’s renowned throw-in coach Thomas Gronnemark.
Kick-ins were discussed at the latest meeting of football’s law-making body IFAB in Doha on Monday. While FIFA president Gianni Infantino said there are no plans for a formal trial just yet, Arsene Wenger, the organisation’s head of global development, is a fan.
Speaking last year, the former Arsenal boss argued for the return of the kick-in option that was removed in 1863. “The target is to make the game more spectacular and quicker. Maybe with throw-ins you could play with your feet in a limit of five seconds, for example.”
Gronnemark vehemently disagrees.
“It would be the biggest mistake,” he tells Sky Sports.
“They would be taking a beautiful thing away. But I am 100 per cent sure they will keep them because they will soon see if they trial it that maybe the ball won’t be lost as much with no pressure on the kicker and it will ruin the joy of the game for everyone.”
Gronnemark has made a career out of advising some of the game’s most famous clubs on how to improve their work from throw-ins. It is an aspect of football that occurs between 40 and 50 times per game but is often overlooked. The Dane has helped to change that.
“I have seen that the development in throw-ins has been better since I got my break at Liverpool,” he says. In his expert view, those that are seeking an alternative to the throw-in would be better off focusing on how to improve this key discipline of the game.
“If you are not working on throw-ins, spending time on it in training and have a general lack of knowledge, then, of course, it is challenging. No matter what we are talking about in life, if you don’t work on it then it will be a big challenge.
“I have seen people say that it is 10 against 11 inside the pitch when you take the thrower away so you are almost certain to lose the ball. No, you are not almost certain to lose the ball! It can actually be an advantage but coaches don’t put the time into it.”
Few are as passionate about the throw-in as Gronnemark. But what is exacerbating his concern is the feeling that football’s governing bodies have failed to consider the consequences that will come with kick-ins and how they will change the game.
“There are many different reasons for it. First of all, one of the big challenges with kick-ins is that when you have a free-kick in the opposition half there are teams who decide to put a lot of people into the box and treat it like a corner but from further out.
“Introducing kick-ins will, for sure, bring more long balls into the game. There is no doubt about that. But even though that is a big challenge, and one of the big differences to a throw-in, for me it is just the start of the challenges that come with kick-ins.”
The possibility of more long balls is something the lawmakers could try to mitigate with the five-second rule. But Gronnemark anticipates a more nuanced issue that will emerge in time. It relates to this matter of pressure and what happens when it is not there.
“Why is less pressure bad? Look at team sports like handball, basketball and hockey. Anything with a ball. What excites us is that the players are put into pressure situations. The excitement comes when you release that pressure and find space.
“That is really satisfying and not just from throw-ins but also when you have the ball in the middle of the pitch playing with your feet. This situation, relieving pressure and creating valuable space, that is a satisfaction no matter what sport you watch.
“When you introduce kick-ins, it will mean that people have to stand back so you will have less pressure. We want pressure situations. We want as coaches to learn strategies to release that pressure. When that happens, it is exciting.
“With a throw-in, you are often under pressure but that is the challenge. Can you, through your movements, release that pressure? Throw-ins should be seen as a thing that is raising the quality of the game and also for the viewers out there.
“If they decide to introduce kick-ins in the future, I know that we will have so many unpressured situations. They will have to have a distance between the kicker and, if it is taken short, to the receiver too. What will happen instead in those situations?
“When you watch a match and there is no pressure on the ball, it goes to the central defender and then the next defender, the other full-back, back to the defender. That is part of football. But by having kick-ins you will increase the amount of these situations.
“There will be less ball loss. But there will be less excitement too.
“What people are also forgetting is that even if you are good at throw-ins, when you lose the ball you give the opponent an opportunity to have a counterattack. Even though that is bad for your team it is good for football because it is entertaining.
“I am sure they have not thought of this problem with the pressure situations. I am not saying there will never be exciting times for supporters with kick-ins but they will be fewer. Kick-ins would reduce those pressure situations and make the game more boring.
“I cannot understand why nobody is saying kick-ins will be very bad for football. It feels like someone said kick-ins would be good and, instead of thinking it through, many people are now saying kick-ins would be good. I can’t find any argument for why they are good.”
Wenger identified throw-ins and free-kicks as “the two big time-wasters at the moment” with the implication that kick-ins would change this. Gronnemark does not accept that reasoning – arguing there are simpler solutions to prevent time-wasting.
“Firstly, I don’t think time-wasting is a problem with throw-ins. Why? Because if a team is time-wasting it should be obvious to the referee. If you are using that time to create space, it should also be obvious that the time is being used to keep the ball by moving.
“They won’t say it’s time-wasting with corners because people understand with this that the players need time to get into the right positions to receive the ball and the kicker needs to be able to set the ball right. This time-wasting argument with throw-ins is not valid.
“And besides, the easiest way to get around time-wasting is to have 60 minutes of effective playing time. This happens in many other sports. We could do that in football. Kick-ins are not an argument against throw-ins regarding time-wasting in any way.
“A five-second rule would also be really bad. Let people create space if they cannot throw it fast. People are suggesting it because they don’t know how to solve the challenge. Instead of trying to become better at football, people want to change the rules.”
It is easy to be cynical about Gronnemark’s passion. Throw-ins are his livelihood. But this final point feels fair. He is already branching out. “I have been coaching the goal-kicks for the goalkeepers.” If throw-ins are to be superseded by kick-ins, he will adapt.
But why should he have to? The throw-in is a problem to be solved on the pitch, not by lawmakers. “Learning to make better throw-ins, make higher quality space creation as a team to create chances to score goals, that is the way forward, not kick-ins,” he concludes.
“That would be a huge step back.”