The importance of the throw in

“File:Rory Delap.jpg” by Russ London (talk) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Before matches, in the build up, throw ins are rarely considered as a part of the game that will have any major effect on the outcome. However, when the ball goes into touch and it’s unclear who the ball should go to, the team who doesn’t get it passionately complains, and the team who receives possession is given an undeniable lift.
I’m sure every coach will tell you throw ins are an incredibly important part of the game, but it still seems their significance is overlooked.

The exceptions are when players have a long throw that is similar to taking a corner (see Rory Delap, or recently in Scottish football, Ciaron Brown who was recently recalled to Cardiff from Livingston). In these cases though, it seems like this ability is almost taken as a joke.

Commentators have a wee giggle as the attacking team prepare to treat the throw as a major set piece, which is bemusing. The huge advantage a long throw taker gives should be covered and analysed more in the media, and not treated as an opportunity for a “joke” from a commentator.

Moving on from my commentating pet peeves, I believe your average throw in can provide a huge momentum shift. Just think- it’s the only situation in a match where an outfield player can handle the ball. For a second in a match, the rules don’t apply. Not only do they not apply, the opposition also cannot challenge who’s on the ball. They can only mark the best they can. I’m surprised we don’t see nearly as many throw in “routines” in the final third as you would with indirect free kicks and corners. Even in the middle of the pitch, I think the way the throw is utilised should be more than just giving it to a player in front of the thrower. We see teams perform silky passing routines all the time, and kicking them off with a throw could be groundbreaking. Just think, throwing the ball is by far a better way at getting it over an opponent directly in front of you than kicking it off the ground, and that’s only one way that completely takes an opponent, maybe even more, out of the game.

On the flip side, giving the ball away from a throw almost always provokes an instant counter-attack from the team that wins the ball. This is because the throw in taker is off the pitch and out of position.

While it’s less of a problem if the taker is a winger, or a marauding full-back, it can be incredibly dangerous if the team with the throw are playing with one man out wide on either side, or if the taker is a central midfielder- a man is seriously overcommitted and there is one less to defend the counter. Another factor here is that since throw ins are on the touchline, if the team in possession gives it away the counter will likely be in the middle of the pitch to isolate the thrower. These dangers might be why throw ins aren’t treated as set pieces to create major chances from using a routine. Giving it away will increase the chance of your goalkeeper having to face a shot.

Despite this, I feel that the throw in should be seen as an alternate avenue for teams who are struggling for goals to consider.
On defending the throw, I wonder if teams will begin to notice sides not taken advantage of them. Think. If a team continually has their throws come to nothing, why start to instruct an extra player or two to linger further up the pitch to receive the ball for a counter? If this were to happen, the way a team sets up to defend a throw in would come under more scrutiny. Do you contest the original throw? Or do you sit off the team in possession and bank on them giving it away? The first option might get you the ball quicker but leaves you more open if you fail, while the second gives you more stability but gives the opposition more time to mark the attackers higher up the pitch.

As the sport stands right now though, the throw in is simply a contributor to scrappy midfield battles. The ball comes into play, two players go for it, and the match continues as normal. Neither teams’ shape changes, no new ideas come into play, and it’s a little bit sad how uninspiring the throw is.

A proper football manager might tell me why certain ideas for throw in scenarios aren’t practical, but they remain thought provoking. If they become a more prominent way to score goals in the future, then I’ll look forward to seeing the new style of attacking moves they’ll bring.

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