The current list of the highest-paid soccer players will look slightly different than it did heading into 2020, most notably due to the economic implications of COVID-19. Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in substantial salary reductions at many European clubs as well as dips in players’ market values. However, not even a global economic crisis could knock the two greatest players of all time off their perch.
NameAgeNationality/National TeamCurrent TeamSalary/Winnings (Million USD)Endorsements (Million USD)Total Earnings (Million USD)1Cristiano Ronaldo35PortugalJuventus F.C.60.045.0105.02Lionel Messi33ArgentinaF.C. Barcelona72.032.0104.03Neymar28BrazilParis Saint-Germain F.C.70.525.095.54Mohamed Salah28EgyptLiverpool F.C.23.112.035.15Kylian Mbappé21FranceParis Saint-Germain F.C.20.813.033.86Andrés Iniesta36SpainVissel Kobe26.63.029.67Mesut Özil31GermanyArsenal F.C.23.25.528.78Paul Pogba27FranceManchester United F.C.23.05.528.59Oscar28BrazilShanghai SIPG F.C.25.81.727.510Antoine Griezmann29FranceF.C. Barcelona21.25.526.71. Cristiano RonaldoComing in at number one is current Juventus striker and Portuguese international, Cristiano Ronaldo. Wildly regarded as the best player of his generation and one of the best players of all time, along with an Argentinian fellow who we’ll get to in a moment, Cristiano Ronaldo is not only the highest-paid soccer player in the world but one of the highest-paid athletes as well. According to Forbes’ latest list, Ronaldo takes the #2 spot at $105 million, just below tennis star Roger Federer’s $106.3 million. Ronaldo is also the second-highest-paid athlete of the decade, earning $800 million during the 2010s. Ronaldo’s name has almost become synonymous with staggering cash amounts due to his $100 million move to Real Madrid in 2009, a world record transfer fee at the time, as well his $117 million move to Juventus in 2018, for which he actually took a pay cut.
However, it is Ronaldo’s endorsements that take him to the top of the list, as he is one of only three athletes to have a lifetime deal with Nike, the other two being Michael Jordan and Lebron James. While his lifetime deal with Nike alone exceeds $1 billion, Ronaldo also has endorsement deals with brands such as Herbalife and Altice and has a reported net worth of $460 million. When also considering the success of his own CR7 brand as well as the fact that he is the most followed person on Instagram and Facebook, it’s no surprise that Ronaldo holds the top spot for the highest-paid soccer player…he makes money off practically everything he does!
2. Lionel MessiWhile Leo Messi’s endorsement earnings pale in comparison to Ronaldo’s, Messi’s salary puts him only $1 million behind his co-GOAT with a whopping $104 million. Last year, Messi topped the list of the highest-paid soccer players, making around $130 million and earning the highest salary of any athlete across all team sports, but after accepting a 70% pay cut amid the coronavirus pandemic, has dropped down to 2nd. As the co-best player of his generation and of all time, it makes sense that the Argentinian forward for Barcelona makes a substantial amount of money.
The six-time Ballon d’Or winner, 10-time La Liga title winner, four-time Champions League winner, and two-time treble winner is the third highest-paid athlete in the world as well as third highest-paid athlete of the last decade, earning $750 million over the past ten years. Messi’s Barcelona contract makes up most of his earnings, but his lifetime deal with Adidas certainly plays its part. Messi also has partnerships with Gatorade, Pepsi, MasterCard, and Huawei Technologies and has a net worth of $400 million.
3. NeymarFor much of the past decade, Neymar Jr. has been considered the third-best player in the world behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Although his individual accolades may not reflect that due to Messi’s and Ronaldo’s dominance (Neymar has never won Player of the Year, compared to Messi and Ronaldo who have won it a combined 11 times), his salary and earnings certainly do. At $95.5 million, Neymar is not only the third highest-paid soccer player in the world but also the fourth highest-paid athlete in the world, meaning that soccer contributes three of the top four athletes on the list.
Neymar’s move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 remains the most expensive signing of all time at $263 million. The five-year contract he signed with the French club is worth $350 million. Neymar signed an 11-year deal with Nike in 2011 and, in 2016, became the first soccer player to collaborate with Jordan Brand, which now provides PSG’s jerseys. Neymar also has endorsement deals with brands such as Beats and Gillette and has a reported net worth of $185 million.
4. Mohamed SalahBack-to-back Premier League Golden Boot winner and current champion of England and Europe, Mo Salah has been one of the best players in the Premier League since his move to Liverpool in 2017 for $46 million. In his first season at the club, Salah broke the record for most goals in a 38-game season with 32 and helped bring Liverpool to the Champions League final. Salah got injured in the final, and Liverpool ultimately lost, but the Reds took revenge the following season and lifted the trophy.
This season, Salah has helped Liverpool win its first Premier League title in 30 years. The Egyptian King is a long way off the top three highest-paid players, but his $35.1 million is enough for fourth. Salah has endorsement deals with Adidas, Vodafone, and Pepsi and has a net worth of $70 million.
5. Kylian MbappéA rising star and future Ballon d’Or winner in the making, the 21-year-old French forward has been lighting up Ligue 1 (the French top-flight soccer league) alongside Neymar for the past three seasons. After winning the league with AS Monaco as well as the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award and the Golden Boy award, Kylian Mbappé switched to PSG in 2017 on a loan deal before PSG made it permanent in 2018 for $156 million, the second-highest transfer fee of all time.
He has already won Ligue 1 a total of four times, been top goal scorer twice in a row, and lifted the World Cup trophy with France. Mbappé earns $33.8 million and is sponsored by Nike. He also has an endorsement deal with Hublot and has a net worth of anywhere between $75 million and $110 million.
6. Andrés IniestaOne of the best midfielders of all time, 36-year-old Andrés Iniesta is edging closer and closer towards retirement, especially since leaving Barcelona in 2018. The Spanish hero currently plays for Japanese side Vissel Kobe, from which he receives most of his $29.6 million in earnings.
Iniesta has won nine La Liga titles, four Champions League titles, and two trebles, along with a plethora of other accolades. He also scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup and finished 2nd in the Ballon d’Or rankings that year. In fact, the only reasons he never won the award in his time at Barcelona are named Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. He and Xavi, his former Barcelona teammate, are arguably the greatest midfield duo of all time. Iniesta has an endorsement deal with Asics and a net worth of $100 million.
7. Mesut ÖzilHaving only scored one goal and provided two assists in only 18 matches played in the Premier League this season, Arsenal is seemingly giving free money away to Mesut Özil. Despite his obvious quality and the fact that he is one of the best passers of the ball in the game, Özil has been criticized by multiple pundits and managers over the past few years for lackluster performances and his apparent desire to not play for Arsenal.
However, while his relationship with his club has suffered in recent years, his paycheck certainly hasn’t. The German World Cup winner and former Real Madrid player comes in seventh on the list of the highest-paid soccer players with $28.7 million in earnings. His sponsors include Adidas and Mercedes-Benz, and he has a reported net worth of around $100 million.
8. Paul PogbaIn 2016, Manchester United re-signed French midfielder Paul Pogba from Juventus on a 5-year contract for a world-record $120 million at the time. Since then, he has struggled with issues involving consistency and his commitment to the club, but like Özil, has undoubted quality. His passing ability and skill are phenomenal, and in 2018, he put his quality on full display for the world to see and helped France win the World Cup with incredible performance throughout the tournament. He scored in the final and played one of the best passes of the tournament in the buildup to the goal.
Although his future is uncertain, he and Manchester United’s recent signing, Bruno Fernandes, have been playing excellently together. Paul Pogba is just below Özil in total earnings with $28.5 million and has partnerships with Adidas and Pepsi. His net worth is $85 million.
9. OscarOscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior, the incredible Brazilian midfielder formerly of Chelsea, hasn’t played in Europe since 2016. After winning two Premier League titles with the West London club, Oscar made the shocking move to Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG in January of 2017. Oscar has explained that his desire to further support and provide for his family incentivized his $75 million transfer to China, as he grew up very poor.
In fact, the wages he receives from Shanghai SIPG are quadruple what he was paid in the Premier League and make up most of his $27.5 million in earnings. However, the Chinese Super League has since imposed a salary cap on foreign signings and the clubs in the league, meaning that Oscar may be on his way back to Europe next year. Oscar has a partnership with Adidas and a net worth of $70 million.
10. Antoine GriezmannAfter five years at Atlético Madrid during which he became one of the best players in La Liga and the world, Antoine Griezmann completed a $135 million switch to FC Barcelona in 2019. He played a huge role in France’s 2018 World Cup win and won the Bronze Ball (the award for the third-best player of the tournament). He has also come in third for the Ballon d’Or twice (2016 and 2018).
Griezmann’s Barcelona salary, as well as his endorsement deals with Puma and Huawei, get him to $26.7 million in total earnings. The Frenchman has a net worth of $60 million.
Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea and Chilean Inter Milan loanee Alexis Sánchez of Manchester United as well as Welsh winger Gareth Bale of Real Madrid are the three closest players to the top 10 list with $25.7 million, $25.6 million, and $25.2 million in total earnings respectively.
Question #1: Who is the highest-paid soccer player in the world?
Answer: In terms of total earnings, Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest-paid professional soccer player in the world with $105 million in the past year. In terms of just wages, however, Lionel Messi earns the highest salary, closely followed by Neymar Jr.
Question #2: Who is the richest soccer player in the world?
Answer: The richest soccer player is actually 22-year-old midfielder and Prince of Brunei, Faiq Bolkiah, who has a net worth of $20 billion. Excluding royalty, however, CR7 takes the top spot once again with a net worth of $460 million, only $10 million ahead of retired England international David Beckham.
Question #3: How do player salaries in the MLS compare to European player salaries?
Answer: MLS salaries on average are significantly lower than the salaries of the top players in European leagues. This is mostly due to the MLS’ salary cap of $4.24 million per team and $530,000 per player (besides three “designated players”). MLS also generates less revenue than the top European leagues.
Question #4: How do transfers work in soccer?
Answer: Players often transfer from one team to another for a set price plus add-ons and bonuses. Before any deal is finalized, players must complete contract negotiations and undergo medical assessments. Other clubs can bid for a player at any point in time regardless of when the player’s contract ends.
Question #5: How do contracts work in soccer?
Answer: Contracts can last for any length in time and be renegotiated at any point in time. Contracts will often have buyout or release clauses that state that the player can leave the club if a team bids above a certain price within a specific period of time.
Question #6: What’s the most expensive transfer of all time?
Answer: Neymar Jr.’s transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 is the most expensive transfer of all time at $263 million. The transfer fee world record has been broken five times in the 21st Century, once by PSG, once by Manchester United, and three times by Real Madrid.
Question #7: What determines a soccer player’s salary?
Answer: Many factors go into determining a player’s salary, most significantly the economic resources of the player’s team and the revenue of the league. Other than that, though, teams will increase and decrease player salaries depending on a player’s quality, potential, time at the club, and importance to the team.
Question #8: What soccer team pays players the most?
Answer: Barcelona is the highest-paid soccer team in the world, with Real Madrid and Juventus in second and third. Barcelona has an average first-team pay of $12.3 million per year, while Real Madrid’s average is $11.2 million. Thanks to CR7’s move to Juventus in 2018, Juventus take third with $10.1 million.