Bayern Munich sent the club's head of analytics and match analysis Michael Niemeyer to Boston for this year's MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Niemeyer stopped by the booth of FiveThirtyEight.com and spoke about Bayern's use and embracing of analytics.
Here is the full transcription.
FiveThirtyEight: Where does Bayern sit among other teams in the Bundesliga and in the top European leagues with analytics, and is it something that has been embraced across the board or have some teams not gotten with the program?
"It all depends on the coaches you have. The only people who can really push it forward are the coaches. It's interesting, because of the conference here, I see that our job is seen different in the US. You have data people that are not sitting in the coaching office. Maybe here it's different, because the data people have not so much to do with the coaches. And, I think you have to be in the coach's office. If you sit somewhere else, you'll never get it on the pitch. It won't work. The only way it works is you have to sit right next to the coach. You have to adapt his ideas, and then try to bring it on the pitch.
To get back to your question, I think we had really good coaches at Bayern to bring this matter forward. We had Klinsmann who started the whole thing. We had Louis Van Gaal who, for me, is the godfather of match analysis. He was fantastic. Then, we had Jupp Heynckes who took what Louis did and put it to the next level. And, now we have Pep Guardiola, who as he came to Bayern, the first thing he said was, "The match analysis department is the most important department for me." The second thing was, " I see a big part of my work in the auditorium." The auditorium is a place where he has video sessions. If you want to bring your ideas to the pitch, you have to use these technologies, and you have to use match analysis."
FiveThirtyEight: Speaking of the players, how much did they buy in or is it more somebody translates it for them into something that has no numbers but is based on data.
"Everything comes from the coach. Everything the player gets to see comes directly from the coach. We do meetings in the auditorium. They have laptops or iPads where they can see. We have an online platform similar to Facebook where they can discuss. It's an exchange platform. So, this is how it works. I can't tell if it compares to the West, I don't know. That's one reason I'm here. I want to see in your sports like basketball, baseball, American football to see what the guys are doing there."
FiveThirtyEight: How do you translate that? It's a different sport, different rules, different country. What's an example of something you've seen these last two days that's a germ of an idea that could apply to Bayern from a different sport?
"I think that baseball, for example, is different because of the repeatable actions you have there. But, we also have set pieces. We have penalties. We also have a few things that are repeatable. So I just talk to the people and want to know how they analyse, how they get it on the pitch. That's the most important thing. If you don't get it on the pitch, you have to quit your job."
FiveThirtyEight: I went to the interview yesterday with Garber, the commissioner of MLS, and he wants all kinds of advances in technology and in rules. And, he feels held back by the global nature of the sport. He wants goal line technology. He wants GoPro cameras on the players. He wants to try it all. I know that's not your job, but you're also a fan, I'm sure. How much do you want soccer to stay the way it's been for over a hundred years, and how much do you want to see it try completely new things like T20 in cricket.
"I was, yesterday, at the Boston Celtics game, and there was a lot going on besides the pitch. There were a lot of gadgets and bling bling. And, it was good. I liked it. I liked it. I would describe it as fan engagement. You have to do it as two things. On the one side is fan engagement, and on the other side there's the things that bring analytics forward. On his point, the goal technology is coming in the Bundesliga, so I think it will come to the US, too. But, for me, the one thing that has to come is the exchange from the analytics... the exchange between us and the bench. It's not allowed in soccer."
FiveThirtyEight: During a game... To say, "Hey, we picked up on this tendency..."
"Yeah. So, we can do it at halftime, and we do. But, you're not allowed to exchange during the game."
FiveThirtyEight: If you could, that makes your department a lot more valuable.
"Yeah, of course. Of course. It's not that big impact that everybody thinks. Most big impacts happen before and after the game, but it would help. For me, I don't see the point why not."
FiveThirtyEight: In all the sports, one of the themes at this conference is that analytics has come a long way. How far back do you go with it, and how much has it changed in your time with analytics?
"Well, I think it's changed a lot. In the beginning, I always try to get rid of the work that I'm doing and focus on the little details. What really helps in this matter is technology. Not only with technology and databases, but also on the statistical side we try, for example, pattern detection. I don't know if the word exists in English, but it's to find out patterns in the game. For example, to create our automatic player report or to create and automatic standard for a set piece or set play report. It's possible already with the data we have. We just get the right people together, and that's exactly what pushes it to the next level, I think."