Seven of the strangest roles in football: Throw-in coaches, baristas & chaplains
Liverpool made headlines when they appointed a throw-in coach – but that’s far from the only unusual role in football.
With so much now riding on the finest of margins, clubs are increasingly focussing on the finer details to see what advantage they may be able to get over opponents.
We’ve looked at seven of the strangest roles is football, ranging from the scientific to the spiritual.
Thomas Gronnemark has himself suggested he has “the weirdest job in football”, but the Dane has been employed by a number of clubs, most notably Liverpool as a specialist throw-in coach.
We spoke to Gronnemark to get the lowdown on his job, which he believes can help clubs score as many as 15 more goals a season.
Neopolitans take their coffee extremely seriously. Just ask Maurizio Sarri, who has arranged for shipments of his favourite coffee from his hometown to be sent to him since he has moved to Chelsea.
And during Sarri’s time as Napoli manager, he tasked a member of the club’s staff with bringing him a fresh espresso out at set breaks in training every day.
“I still can’t find anyone who makes coffee like Tommaso [Napoli’s coffee maker] though!” he told Il Mattino in September.
Maybe there is something magic about Neopolitan coffee. Il Corriere dello Sport once reported that Jurgen Klopp was particularly taken by the coffee he was offered at the Stadio San Paolo when he took his Borussia Dortmund side to play Napoli for a Champions League tie in 2012-13 – so much so it reportedly played on his mind when he was offered the chance to take over the club.
— Official SSC Napoli (@sscnapoli) October 1, 2018
A club chaplain is actually fairly common in English football – around 75% of professional sides have one – but their work remains largely unrecognised by the wider public, and is often voluntary and unpaid.
Often their work is not centred around religious beliefs but rather to simply support the players with whatever issues they may be dealing with.
“The difference is that a psychologist is employed by a club to produce better performances,” Peter Amos, the chaplain at Barnsley for two decades, told Rory Smith in the New York Times. “A chaplain is a volunteer whose duty is to support the players as people.”
If there was one thing we thought we were as good, or if not better, as professional footballers at, it was sleeping. We can’t get enough of it, to be honest.
But then we remembered Nick Littlehales, the man who has taught the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and the Class of 92 how to recover and sleep, and now we’re not too sure anymore.
“When the players weren’t really concentrating, or interested, Thierry Henry stepped up and got them to pay attention,” Littlehales told Sky Sports. “He was very interested and wanted to get as much out of it as he could.
“Then I’d be in the media room at Melwood [Liverpool’s training ground] and I was lying on the table showing Steven Gerrard the best position to sleep in. The team doctors were getting too many questions about sleep, so in I came.”
Curses remain a remarkably common occurrence in professional football, meaning witch doctors of some kind or another are never short of work.
In 2015, The Sun reported a number of Premier League players pay thousands of pounds to visit Juju men in West Africa.
Former West Brom striker Brown Ideye even said: “I know players who get involved with the Juju men and they can’t get out. It’s a trap. They might get short-term benefits, but in the long run they pay for it. Juju men have a lot of influence.
“These are men who are just trying to make themselves rich and tell you they can make your life perfect.”
This continues a long tradition in football of clubs seeking spiritual help.
Both Derby County and Leeds United paid for gypsy curses to be lifted, while the latter invited Monsignor Philip Moger to bless the pitch under the ownership of Massimo Cellino after a period of eight months without a home victory in November.
Australia, meanwhile, were so convinced they had been afflicted with a curse dating back to a tour of Rhodesia in 1969, the captain of the team at the time, Johnny Warren, revisited the African country over three decades later to have the hex lifted.
It is not unknown that a football club may pay for a player’s friend to move to a new city with their new signing to help him settle, with Paul Merson one particular example.
Middlesbrough put Merson’s brother on their payroll after signing the Arsenal attacking midfielder in 1997 in order to convince him to eventually move to the North East.
“They put him on £400 a week to sit and watch telly with me,” Merson told the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score? podcast. “He was f*cking devastated when I left.”
Boro probably didn’t think the move through when they decided Merson and his brother could live with Paul Gascoigne and his friend Jimmy ‘Five Bellies’.
“We used to play a game every day bar Friday,” Merson told A League Of Their Own. “We’d get back from training. We’d give my brother and Jimmy a load of money to go and get some bottles of red wine.
“We’d come back and put the red wine into these massive glass jugs then Gazza and my brother would sit on that seat and me and Jimmy would sit on this seat.
“We wouldn’t do it on a Friday because we played Saturday. Load of money on the coffee table and then we’d start drinking red wine.
“Every hour we’d pop a sleeping tablet and whoever fell asleep last picked the money off the table and went to bed.”
Speaking of Merson, the former Arsenal man was part of the England squad which had the opportunity to work with Eileen Drewery, the faith healer appointed by Glenn Hoddle.
Ray Parlour famously went to visit Drewery, asking for a “short back and sides” when he sat down and was immediately banished from the squad by Hoddle.