Peter Thal Larsen on Reuters Breakingviews Soccernomics calculator
Reuters Breakingviews recently released its 2018 World Cup Soccernomics calculator, which predicts who will lift soccer’s ultimate trophy in Russia this summer. Breakingviews ranked the 32 contenders according to player values, population, home support, and participation in the sport. Put them all together, and Breakingviews reports Germany is best placed to successfully defend its crown. In a Reuters Best: Journalist Spotlight Q&A, Reuters Breakingviews EMEA Editor Peter Thal Larsen offers a behind-the-scenes look at how they developed the calculator.
Q. Can you talk a bit about the process of building the calculator?
A. This is the second time Breakingviews has attempted to predict the winner of the World Cup based on financial and socioeconomic data. We came up with the methodology four years ago, when our forecast that Germany would win proved correct. The idea is to rank countries based on a range of criteria, and then use the combined score to say who will win each match.
Q. What are the various factors that go into the calculator and why?
A. It starts with the value of the players: a more expensive team should be technically more accomplished. We added up the transfer value of all 23 players in each national squad travelling to Russia. Population is next: countries with more people to choose from should have a stronger team. But those numbers depend on how soccer-crazy the country is. So we looked at the fan base: what proportion of the country watched at least 20 minutes of the 2014 tournament? However, a nation of armchair fans won’t be any use on the pitch. So our final input measures what proportion of the country’s male population are members of the national soccer association.
Q. Were there any difficulties in building this year’s model?
A. Crunching the data on player values for 32 teams was very time-consuming, and kept changing as star players got injured or were excluded from the squad. We were updating the model to take account of player changes until the last minute.
Q. What makes you passionate about journalism?
A. I love the opportunity to cut through the noise and zero in on the very heart of a subject. I enjoy being able to ask important people tough questions. And finally, I value the freedom I have as a financial columnist to express my honest opinion.
Q. What is your job and what do you find most fulfilling about it?
A. I’m the EMEA editor for Reuters Breakingviews. The best thing about the job is working with a team of smart, dedicated columnists and editors to focus on the issues that matter most to our readers. Every day is different.
Q. What have been your most rewarding and most difficult experiences as a journalist?
A. The most rewarding experience was helping to put Breakingviews on the map in Asia, building up a thriving team and launching our daily Asian email edition. The most challenging was covering the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Everybody was traumatised, journalists included.
Q. Can you imagine being anything other than a journalist? If so, what?
A. Not really. I sometimes daydream about lecturing on economic history, but the pace of academic life would probably be too slow.
Q. Anything else you’d like to share?
A. Just to encourage everyone to play with the Breakingviews Soccernomics calculator - and let us know how you think it can be improved for 2022!