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Alan McManus On Playing and Punditry

Alan McManusAlan McManus has built a reputation as one of snooker’s finest analysts. However, the 1994 Masters champion is also still going strong on the World Snooker Tour and is now embarking on his 30th season as a professional.

The Scot has enjoyed a perfect opening to the 2019/20 campaign, scoring victories to qualify for the Riga Masters and the International Championship. We sat down with McManus to find out how he balances life in the box and on the baize…

Alan, having done work for the BBC, ITV and Eurosport you are extremely busy on the punditry side of things. I know you like to do quite a bit of research and preparation before going on air when you are working as well. How easy is it to balance that with your playing career?

“I have to say I find it quite easy. I don’t have any sort of conflict with it. I’m just not the sort of guy to worry about those kinds of things. I’ll turn up and play when I am scheduled to. When I am at an event in between matches I am there anyway. I just end up twiddling my thumbs being bored on my days off, so I may as well be doing things.

“I must admit the research is pretty straightforward stuff. I’ll look up a player for a bit of background information before I go into the box. It’s nice to be able to provide some facts that I am guessing the viewer won’t generally know about. For instance I mentioned in commentary that Zhou Yuelong is from Chengdu. The viewers may not realise just how far away from home some of these Chinese guys are, so it is nice to tell them. I don’t like to rock up and wing it, I like to have done the prep beforehand. I do have a slight advantage over some of the commentators, because I have played pretty much everyone who is currently on tour and if I haven’t I will have at least seen them play up close. There are so many good players and you need to try and have a knowledge of all of them.

“Before working as a pundit on a big match I will tend to go in to the venue a few hours beforehand. I like to sit in the press room, jot down a few thoughts and get things figured out in my head. Being there just helps you to get mentally involved with the match, which I think is important.”

Do you prefer working in the commentary box or as a studio analyst?

“I find the commentary a little bit more enjoyable. When you are physically in the arena, the flow of the match becomes more apparent. You can see how the players are feeling in their chair and how they are reacting to things. I much prefer being able to immerse myself in the game like that.

“The studio is good, but you don’t get as involved in the match. I’m always conscious of turning around and putting one of the players off. That is the nightmare scenario, so we watch most of it on the monitors. Your job is to be looking out for any potential turning points that you can talk about at the interval. You need to try and mix it up and make things interesting and a bit different. Snooker isn’t like football when there are 22 players and refereeing decisions with lots of controversy to discuss. That is partly because our players generally don’t cheat. However, snooker has a lot of technical things which I find very interesting. It isn’t always easy to find things, but you have to try.”

How interesting has it been to get to see more of what goes on behind the scenes in live snooker broadcasts?

“It has been great. I enjoy the work and the people are brilliant. The guys behind the scenes who put together the features are so talented. To work with the likes of Hazel Irvine in front of the camera is amazing. You really get to understand how good people like that are when you see it up close and witness it first hand. They are all a really talented and professional bunch.”

On the table is there anything in particular that you have been working on ahead of this season?

“Well I have been working on something for about the last 18 months actually and it is just starting to come together. I’ve tried to readjust what my eyes see when I’m addressing the cue ball. For my whole career I have been hitting the ball with side, even when it is actually a plain ball shot. I’ve just been naturally adjusting. To retrain my eyes has been very difficult. Certainly for the first few months it was all about convincing myself that I was now hitting the ball in the middle, because it didn’t feel like I was. I’m not there yet, but it has been really enjoyable to have something to work on. It was actually Graeme Dott that pointed it out and put me onto it. I am one of those players that likes to be going in to work on something rather than just going through the motions.”

During the World Championship you took part in a challenge alongside commentator David Hendon and snooker journalist Hector Nunns, to name the top 10 players in snooker history. Judd Trump didn’t make the top ten, do you think after his Crucible win he now needs to be included?

“I think he probably does now yes. He is a Triple Crown man. If you look at how he won the Masters and the World Championship it was very impressive. He beat Ronnie O’Sullivan and John Higgins in the two biggest finals of the season. He absolutely dusted them as well, they were comprehensive victories. He seems to play well in finals and is a player for the big occasion.

“What I am most pleased about is how he has turned his mentality around. I remember I was in the studio two years ago at the UK Championship. He was 2-0 up against Graeme Dott and got beat 6-2. Although Graeme played awesome, there was no fight in Judd. I said afterwards that was something he would have to change. I thought to myself that he could never win a World Championship like that. What we saw this year, especially in the first round at the Crucible, where he beat Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 10-9, was that he has completely rectified that. You have to feel that he now has a good few more Triple Crown wins in him. He is a nice lad and he carries himself very well on the tour.

“I think he would have to bump Alex Higgins out of 10th place in the list we came up with. It is a good pub argument and it gets everyone talking. We all have an opinion and there is nothing wrong with that. It is good that snooker has the history and the depth of top players to have that argument.”