Do well paid Premier League players need a kicking coach? They insist they make a difference
When Danny Ings scored on his home debut for Aston Villa two weeks ago, the analysis of his efforts sparked a debate that revealed a clear division over one aspect of modern coaching.
As Dean Smith paid tribute to Ings, the Villa manager was quick to credit the work of his new set-piece coach Austin MacPhee, who had apparently worked on the long throw-in and touchdown that had led to the goal.
In the Match of the Day studio, while admitting that this set piece didn’t seem like the most complex, Gary Lineker and Jermaine Jenas agreed that recruiting specialist coaches can only benefit a team looking for essential marginal improvements. to success.
Dean Smith praised Austin MacPhee after Danny Ings’ goal for Aston Villa against Newcastle
MacPhee (above) is Villa’s new trainer and designed the move Ings scored from
Danny Murphy, however, said any good coach should be able to set up a good set piece.
Plus, with teams employing specialists in areas ranging from hitting the ball to throw-ins and now even substitutions, our columnist wondered how much work there was left for the established coaching staff. He goes further in today’s Mail on Sunday, writing: “It smells like a check mark.”
So is there a need for specialists? Does a carefully educated Premier League player really need advice on how to kick a soccer ball?
What can elite coaches learn about free kicks that years of experience haven’t taught them? Well, a lot, if you were to listen to the arguments of the experts in question.
Take, for example, Thomas Gronnemark, the Danish coach who has coached Liverpool since 2018. “I worked with my first professional team in 2004,” he says. “For the past 17 years, I have focused on throw-ins every day. No assistant coach has a chance to come close to this knowledge.
“I’m not saying every team should have 10 specialist coaches. The best way to do this is to bring in a specialist coach for a tour and see.
Brentford also used a long throw from Mads Bech Sorensen (right) to score against Arsenal
“A social media comment read, ‘We already have surgeons, so do we need a brain surgeon? ” It’s true. Yes, a surgeon can do it all, but who would you prefer if you are lying there? It’s just the way to go.
Gronnemark played junior football at a high level before embarking on an unlikely athletic career in which he represented Denmark as a track sprinter before making his way into the national bobsleigh team.
Towards the end of his time as an athlete, he discovered an ability to perform unusually long throw-ins while playing a friendly match, which has been the spark of his current career.
Combining in-person training and video analysis, he now claims to increase the typical distance of a player’s throw-in from five to 15 meters.
Not only that, but, according to Tifo Football research, Gronnemark increased the percentage of touches Liverpool retained possession after pressurized touches from 45.4% to 68.4% in a single season, which made them gave at the time the second highest ratio in Europe behind Midtjylland.
Last season, meanwhile, Jurgen Klopp’s side ranked among the Premier League’s top four clubs for throw-ins and precise throw-ins that led to successful stints.
Throw-in specialist Thomas Gronnemark (right) is highly regarded by Jurgen Klopp
The Dane is now in his fourth season with the club after joining FC Midtjylland in 2018
They also had the most number of quick throws comfortably. Gronnemark says much of his work goes unnoticed as it involves working on the intricacies of creating space when getting an offensive touch and closing it when defending one.
But as our graph (below) should illustrate, two good examples of the impact of his contribution can be seen in winning goals for Liverpool against Wolves and Tottenham two seasons ago.
Most recently, one of his alumni, Mads Bech Sorenson, delivered the long throw-in that led to the second goal in Brentford’s 2-0 win over Arsenal in the Premier League season opener. . Gronnemark reports that Sorensen added 5.9m to his touchdown distance during their time together.
“I work with around 30 different technical elements for a touch,” he says. “Some players, for example, stand still on the line. Some players have their feet too far.
“Some players have a bad break-in. Some don’t use their hips. There are as many challenges as there are players. Gronnemark has found that his work with Liverpool has made clubs more receptive to the prospect of hiring him.
Bartek Sylwestrzak is a Polish ball hitting coach who has worked across Europe, hosting players from the top two divisions of English football. With the exception of a few clubs, he is surprised that they haven’t been more enthusiastic about specialist coaches in his 11 years in office.
“Given that it was already nine years ago that I was able to prove the improvement of professional players, including goals scored, I certainly expected more open-mindedness,” he said. -he declares.
“And since hitting the ball at the top level is also generally poor, I would have expected a different approach. Overall, there has not been a lot of willingness to invest in this type of additional training. ‘
Armed with a sports science degree and a master’s degree in sports psychology, along with personal analysis and “thousands of hours” of his own practice, Sylwestrzak focuses on the art of shooting.
Breaking down each element at once, he can ask a player to adjust the position of the standing foot, the swing of the leg – an area as complex as a golf swing – and the movement of the upper body, as well. as the angle and force with which the foot hits the ball.
He worked with Brentford and coaches in Midtjylland. “John is a good example of a player with a well-developed topspin free kick, which allows you to hit the ball hard over the wall and drop it quickly,” Sylwestrzak explains.
“It is the most effective technique to beat a wall but even in the Premier League only a few players use it.” Kevin De Bruyne is one of them. “He’s got a decent strike, but it sure could be better.”
AFC Wimbledon began to analyze their use of substitutions with specialist coach
Wimbledon boss Mark Robinson (above) hopes the role of sub coach can benefit his team
Ball hitting coach Bartek Sylwestrzak said he was surprised more clubs weren’t open-minded
Sylwestrzak believes Premier League free kicks have a lot of room for improvement. Twelve clubs failed to score directly from a free kick last season, while only three – Southampton, Arsenal and Leeds – have done so more than once in the league.
The most talented players do not fare much better. Despite all the talent and perseverance of Cristiano Ronaldo with the free kicks, his success rate is low. In the last five league seasons, he has converted just two of 82 attempts. Sylwestrzak says: “He couldn’t solve the technical problems with his swing. He keeps repeating the same mistakes.
“He could have broken all the goals from free kicks. But even a player of this technical and physical potential will not improve without technical input or, at best, his progress will be limited. It’s hard to improve without knowing what to do.
Perhaps the most notable appointments were Wimbledon’s hiring of a restart coach and the addition of a substitute specialist.
As far as he knows, Gronnemark remains the only throw-in specialist. Villa new signing MacPhee isn’t the only coach on the ball. Mads Buttgereit, another who cut his teeth in Midtjylland, recently landed the role with Germany. Elsewhere, Brentford employs a sleep consultant.
Smith says, “People are wondering how to bring in specialist coaches, but they analyze everything about the opposition and your own team. They add data and you wouldn’t know where to look for it.
“You have to do the basics first. But all the little marginal gains you can grab … If we had improved our set pieces by just three percent, that would have put us in the top eight last season. This adds to the value of the club. Going up three or four places is worth millions.
He cites Cristiano Ronaldo and Kevin de Bruyne as players who could benefit from his work