The recently released show, which airs at 11am on Saturday morning on BT Sport1 and is also available to non-subscribers via the BT Sport app and BT Sport YouTube channel, explores the role that maths and science play in football and sport more broadly.
The exponential growth of statistical analysis and sports science have rapidly reshaped how fans and pundits analyse football, and the show dives into the key themes in an entertaining and educational format.
In episode three of It’s A Numbers Game, which has been produced in collaboration with Santander, regular hosts Dr Hannah Fry, Pippa Monique and Andrew Mensah welcome Ffion Appleton, McManaman and Duncan Alexander from Opta Joe to discuss the development of football kits, statistical analysis and the art of free kick taking.
Prior to going on set, McManaman provided an insight into what the viewers can expect when the episode goes live on April 17.
“I am wearing shirts from the 1996 era. England’s Euro ’96 shirt, and I’m going to be wearing the shirt from the time I won the Champions League with Real Madrid, and the fashion designer (Ffion Appleton) who designed the shirts is here,” said McManaman.
“They’re trying to compare the shirts now with the shirts then, exploring how aerodynamic they are and how much power you will lose, because, of course, the shirts we wore back in the day were incredibly big and nowadays they’re very tight fitting.”
In what proves to be a nostalgic journey through the key moments in his career, McManaman went on to discuss the struggle he faced after leaving Liverpool for Madrid in 1999.
Not only did McManaman leave his native England shortly after his mum passed away, he was forced to adapt to a new language and culture while operating under the microscope of one of world football’s most demanding institutions.
In the second part of the show, McManaman joins Alexander to discuss the emergence of expected goals (XG), the importance of warming up and the best free kick takers of all-time – from modern day icons like Cristiano Ronaldo to Lyon legend Juninho Pernambucano.
“We’re going to go over the sweet spot of a ball and how much preparation is needed in the pre-match warm up.
“We’ll be talking about some great free kick takers of the past, the Cristianos, the Juninhos, not the one who was at Middlesbrough, the one who was at Lyon – he was an incredible free-kick taker. I played with Roberto Carlos. Luis Figo also took incredible free kicks.
“I think we all agree that the balls do move more now. They are a little bit more aerodynamic and, again, it’ll be nice to hear the science of it all.”
Though McManaman is on board with the rise in technology and statistics, he candidly admits that it can be tricky for commentators and pundits to cut through the noise and identify the most important slices of information.
“Everything seems to be getting better and better. Technology is getting better and better and the equipment’s getting better. I’m a little bit reluctant to agree with everything, but I’m more than happy to read information to take it all on board and then decide myself.”
Given Alexander is one of the most famed statisticians in football media, it will be intriguing to see how his numbers-based approach to analysis stacks up against McManaman when the episode goes live on Saturday.
It’s a Numbers Game is a collaboration programme between BT Sport and Santander which explores the role of science and maths in professional sport. Episode 3 will broadcast on Saturday 17th April at 10:30am on BT Sport 1 and is also available via the BT Sport App and BT Sport YouTube Channel.