It should not come as a surprise that the world’s 10 richest footballers are also among the very best in the game. After all, it is the performance on the field which makes them the highest-paid footballers commanding salaries and brand endorsements amounting to millions of dollars.
There is, of course, the fact that this is football — a very lucrative sport where millions of dollars ride in the form of brand sponsorships and broadcasting rights across national leagues and international levels. Its worldwide fan-following dwarfs all other active sports, which is why many of its players are often seen as demigods in some regions.
Thanks to the money riding on it and mega tournaments, such as FIFA World Cup, football is one of the world’s most watched sports nowadays.
For instance, the 2022 edition of the tournament in Qatar is the most expensive in the history of football. As per a report by Forbes, Qatar spent USD 220 billion in the 12 years since it was selected in 2010 as the host of the World Cup on infrastructure and related developments. The figure is more than 15 times the amount Russia spent for the 2018 edition.
The TV broadcast rights for the 2022 FIFA World Cup alone amount to USD 2.64 billion and the total prize pool is USD 440 million — up from USD 400 million in 2018.
What footballers earn and how they make it
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi — two of the greatest footballers of all time — are regulars on numerous ‘rich lists’. However, the likes of Neymar Jr. and Mohamed Salah, two highly experienced forwards, also rake in millions.
At the same time, relatively younger players such as Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé have become magnets for both advertisers and clubs with big budgets due to their sensational form and multiple successes.
The best estimate of the net worth of athletes such as Ronaldo, Messi or Neymar is made by Forbes. The publication has an annual list of the world’s highest-paid athletes, which includes everything an athlete may have earned in a 12-month period prior to the publication of the list.
The list takes into account all prize money, salaries and bonuses in their playing career as well as sponsorship deals, appearance fees, memorabilia and licensing income. Cash returns from businesses operated by the athlete are also included.
Meanwhile, Forbes’ highest-paid soccer (American term for football) players 2022 list has footballers who are set to earn the most in the ongoing 2022-23 season. The richest soccer players’ list is dedicated to footballers and is more like a future projection of their earnings by the end of a season, which happens in the summer every year.
This is why Messi sits at the top of the 2022 world’s highest-paid athletes, but Mbappé is the richest footballer in the world, as per the highest-paid soccer players on the 2022 list.
Interestingly, both are active players. What about those who have retired?
Most footballers who have hung up their boots unsurprisingly do not earn anywhere close to active players. However, there are exceptions, and the most notable one is David Beckham.
The English great continues to be one of the world’s richest footballers, despite having retired in 2013. According to The Daily Mirror, reportedly has a net worth of USD 450 million, largely because of his numerous brand engagements and his ownership of Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami CF.
The report says that Beckham signed a five-year deal for at least USD 19.78 million per year in May 2020 with Guild Esports. The same year, he also signed a USD 55 million deal to appear in EA Sports’ FIFA 21.
Beckham is the face of the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Some reports in 2021 said that the 10-year deal he signed is worth around USD 170 million. Other reports suggest that the deal is worth USD 277 million.
Multiple media reports indicate that he is now eyeing the possibility of signing up both Messi and Ronaldo for Inter Miami CF.
Footballers who earn the most in the world
Kevin De Bruyne
Total earnings: USD 29 million
Manchester City’s midfield general, Kevin De Bruyne is universally hailed as one of the greatest footballers of his generation.
He played for four different clubs, including Chelsea, from 2008 to 2015. City picked him from Wolfsburg in 2015 for a then club record transfer fee of around USD 82.5 million. At the time, De Bruyne’s transfer made him the second-costliest player in British football history.
“He has all of the mental, physical, tactical and technical attributes required to fit straight in,” Manuel Pellegrini, who was the City manager at the time, said of De Bruyne.
Pundits have repeatedly marvelled at the Belgian icon’s consistency in maintaining each of those attributes at the highest level to date. Managers such as Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have called him a “complete” footballer.
De Bruyne has won four English Premier League titles with City besides other trophies. His latest contract at the club is set to bring him on-field earnings of USD 25 million for the 2022-23 season. He also endorses 11 brands, including Nike, Therabody, Credit Karma and Wow Hydrate, which adds another USD 4 million to his annual earnings.
Total earnings: USD 30 million
Iniesta belongs to what can be called the golden generation of Spanish football. His command on the field, control over the ball, inventiveness and accurate passing has made him one of the greatest midfielders of all time. Throughout his career, Iniesta has played — and excelled in — multiple roles in the midfield, including as a winger and deep midfielder. However, he is best known for his near invulnerability as a central midfielder with fellow Spain icon Xavi.
Iniesta spent almost his entire career with La Liga club Barcelona. He began playing for the Catalan side in their junior team in 2001 and ended as one of its legends in 2018 — the year he moved to Japanese J1 League club Vissel Kobe.
A nine-time La Liga Champion and four-time UEFA Champions League winner for Barcelona, Iniesta was also instrumental in Spain’s Euro 2008, Euro 2012 and 2010 FIFA World Cup championship victories.
Of his total projected earnings for the 2022-23 season, Iniesta is set to make USD 25 million in the form of on-field salary. His off-field earnings are estimated at USD 5 million. In September 2022, he launched Capitten, his own sportswear brand, in Japan. There is also a FIFA World Cup documentary in which Iniesta is set to appear.
Total earnings: USD 31 million
A gifted attacking midfielder and winger, Hazard is one of Belgium’s most prominent players. He began his career with Ligue 1 club Lille before moving to Premier League club Chelsea in 2012. La Liga giants Real Madrid acquired him in 2019 for USD 112 million — the highest ever the club paid for a footballer.
He is one of the few footballers to have won the league in three different countries — Ligue 1 championship for Lille in France, Premier League two times for Chelsea in England, and La Liga two times for Real Madrid.
Hazard has been captaining the Belgian national team since 2015 and has led it to its best-ever performance at the FIFA World Cup in 2018 as the third-place finisher. Under him, Belgian also topped FIFA Men’s Ranking in 2018 and held onto the spot for four consecutive years till Brazil dethroned it in 2022.
However, his performance at Real Madrid has been very disappointing. He has been plagued by injuries and fitness concerns over the four seasons he has played. His performance at the national level, too, has been equally affected during this period.
Yet, Hazard remains one of the richest footballers in the world today. His estimated on-field earnings are set to be USD 27 million and his off-field revenue will be around USD 4 million.
Total earnings: USD 35 million
The Polish striker is the highest goal-scorer for his country with 77 goals. Interestingly, he got his first-ever World Cup goal in a match against Saudi Arabia at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Lewandowski currently plays for Barcelona, which acquired him in mid-2022 for around USD 45 million.
But even though he is widely considered one of the world’s best strikers of the current generation, Lewandowski wasn’t an immediate sensation like Messi, Ronaldo or Mbappé. In fact, he spent the first few years of his senior career in the lower leagues in Poland. He subsequently joined top flight club Lech Poznań in 2008, with whom he won the Polish Cup in 2010.
His incredible performance at Lech Poznań brought him on the radar of Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund, which signed him up in 2010. Four seasons later, he joined Bayern Munich — the club with whom he set multiple records, won many trophies and eventually became one of the top goalscorers in the German league.
Among his accolades are 10 Bundesliga titles and four German Cup championships, besides several other top honours. Besides the wins, he also set five Guinness Book of World Records in 2015 for his five-goal haul in a match against Wolfsburg.
The Poland national team skipper is a Nike ambassador, promotes Polish sports supply company 4F, and has his own clothing line called RL9. Together with his wife, Polish karate champion Anna Lewandowska, he owns Foods by Ann, which sells his RL9 Coffee brand, among other drinks and snacks. He is also very active on TikTok, where he often entertains more than 26 million followers of his with dance videos.
Lewandowski has also been an ambassador for Huawei since 2015. He ended the association earlier in 2022 after reports said that the Chinese multinational supported Russia technologically in the invasion of Ukraine. The end of the deal reportedly cost him around USD 5 million.
In all, his off-field earnings for the 2022-23 season are projected at around USD 8 million. The rest of his total income for the season is in the form of USD 27 million as on-field salary.
Total earnings: USD 39 million
Haaland’s off-field earnings, as per Forbes, are only USD 4 million from his engagements with corporates such as Samsung, Viaplay and Hyperice. However, the publication notes that Haaland might strike a deal for as much as USD 18 million from whatever shoe brand he becomes the ambassador of following the end of his deal with Nike early in 2022.
That would mean that his total earnings would skyrocket by many millions in one go. Until then, almost all his 2022-23 earnings are set to be in the form of on-field salary amounting to USD 35 million.
The Norwegian, who is the son of celebrated Premier League footballer Alfie Haaland, initially played in leagues in Norway and Austria and won the Austrian Bundesliga for Red Bull Salzburg.
Borussia Dortmund acquired him in 2020 and Haaland, who is hailed for his incredible strength, finishing and speed, became a goal-scoring machine for the German club. He was instrumental in Dortmund winning the German Cup in the 2020-21 season.
In 2022, he joined Premier League club Manchester City following a transfer worth around USD 62 million. He cemented his name as one of the greatest in the Premier League in less than 10 games. He is the first player in the league’s history to score three consecutive hat-tricks in home games and is the leading goal scorer for the 2022-23 season.
Total earnings: USD 53 million
Salah is counted among the greatest footballers from Africa. The Egyptian forward plays for Premier League club Liverpool and has won a league title, a FIFA Club World Cup, an English FA Cup, an English Super Cup, a UEFA Super Cup and a UEFA Champions League with them.
He is also a two-time Swiss Super League champion for FC Basel, the club he played for from 2012 to 2014. Before joining Liverpool in a transfer worth around USD 44 million in 2017 from Serie A club Roma, Salah briefly played for Chelsea and Fiorentina.
In July 2022, Salah signed a new three-year contract with Liverpool, becoming the club’s highest-paid player earning around USD 423,000 per week. This is set to contribute USD 35 million to his on-field earnings in the 2022-23 season.
Salah is also one of Adidas’ biggest brand ambassadors. His global fame, particularly in the Arab world and Africa, and his positive image as a unifying force across cultures have played a major role in corporates signing him up for brand endorsements. Forbes estimates that he is thus set to earn USD 18 million off the field.
Total earnings: USD 87 million
Brazilian forward Neymar Jr. set the world record for the highest transfer in football history in 2017 when he was inducted by Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) from Barcelona for USD 263 million.
Forbes placed him fourth on its 2022 list of the world’s highest-paid athletes. According to the publication, his earnings between 1 May 2021 and 1 May 2022 from PSG salary and bonuses amounted to USD 70 million. As per the publication, he made another USD 25 million as off-field earnings, including endorsements for brands such as Puma and Red Bull, in the same period.
As per the publication, Neymar is now set to make USD 55 million as on-field earnings and around USD 32 million off it.
The Brazilian football ace also joined the national side at the FIFA World Cup 2022. He suffered an injury in the first match, which has ruled him out for the rest of the group stage of the tournament.
Total earnings: USD 100 million
Ranked third in the list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for 2022 by Forbes, Ronaldo is arguably the world’s most famous footballing icon. The Portuguese striker has been bamboozling opponents on the field with blistering speed and outstanding accuracy — even at the age of 37, when most footballers would go into retirement mode.
With no signs of slowing down, Ronaldo continues to be one of the biggest brand magnets and sought-after stars in his sport. His fame is further cemented by the fact that he is the world’s most followed human on Instagram, with a staggering count of over 500 million followers.
Ronaldo has won almost every trophy that the world of football can offer, including five Ballon d’Or — footballing world’s highest individual honour. He is the first footballer to win league cups in Premier League, La Liga and Serie A. He also captained Portugal to the 2016 Euro Cup championship.
Ronaldo is the world’s highest goalscorer, male or female, by country with over 110 international goals. He has also scored over 700 goals for the clubs he has played for throughout his career, bringing his total goal tally to over 800.
He endorses brands such as Nike, Herbalife, Livescore, Armani, TAG Heuer and Clear shampoo and Talabat and Jacob & Co. He also has his own highly successful fashion brand named CR7 and has investments in the hospitality sector with Pestana CR7 chain of hotels.
In 2020, he became the third active sportsperson and the first athlete from a team sport to become a billion-dollar athlete. He was the third richest athlete on Forbes’ list of 2022, with total earnings amounting to USD 115 million.
Forbes estimates that he would earn around USD 100 million in the 2022-23 period, with on-field earnings amounting to USD 40 million and off-field contributing the remaining.
However, the estimate was before Ronaldo unceremoniously parted ways with Manchester United in November 2022, just over a year after he returned to the Premier League club for whom he first played from 2003 to 2009. The development came days after Ronaldo severely criticised the club’s system, team manager Erik ten Hag and most of its players.
Saudi Arabian football club Al Nassr recently made a handsome USD 225 million offer to Ronaldo, and rumours are rife that he may accept the three-year deal after the World Cup. If he does, he may well be on his way to topping the ranks of the highest paid footballers and athletes in the world.
Whatever may happen on the club front, pundits have noted that the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is Ronaldo’s last opportunity to lift the only major trophy that has eluded him so far. And he already entered his name in history books in the very first match of Portugal by becoming the first footballer to score in five World Cup tournaments.
Total earnings: USD 120 million
Messi is considered by many as the world’s greatest active footballer. He has long been the mainstay of the Argentine national team and Barcelona. Having won almost all the gold in his trophy cabinet with the La Liga club, Messi joined PSG in the summer of 2021. And he instantly proved to everyone once again why he commands the respect of millions of fans around the world by winning the 2021-22 French league season as well as the French Super Cup.
Messi is a record seven-time winner of the prestigious Ballon d’Or and the first footballer to be awarded the Laureus Award for Best Sportsman of the Year, which he jointly won with Formula 1 legend Lewis Hamilton.
As for goals, Messi, who plays as a forward, is the highest scorer in La Liga history with 474 goals and has the most international goals by a South American male footballer with 90. In total, Messi has scored over 785 goals in his senior career.
Messi first became the world’s highest-paid athlete on Forbes’ list in 2019. He topped the list again in 2022 with total earnings of USD 130 million. The Argentine is one of the six billionaire athletes in the world today, with Forbes valuing the total earnings in his career at USD 1.15 billion.
As per Forbes’ estimates, he will become the second-highest-paid footballer in the 2022-23 season with total earnings of around USD 120 million. Around USD 65 million of this total will come from his salary at PSG. The remaining, USD 55 million, comprises off-field income, including endorsements for brands such as Adidas, Budweiser, Gatorade, Konami, Mastercard, Pepsi and PUBG MOBILE.
All eyes are on the Argentine at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, especially because Messi has already stated that it is “surely” his last. As for his future at the club level, ESPN, citing sources, reports that he might not join Beckham’s Inter Miami CF and stay on at PSG for at least one more season till 2024.
Total earnings: USD 128 million
Forbes suggests that the young French striker will be the world’s highest-paid footballer for the 2022-23 season. His estimated on-field earnings are estimated at USD 110 million — higher than the total earnings of everyone else except Messi.
He is also set to earn USD 18 million from endorsements of brands such as Dior, Panini, Hublot, Oakley and Nike.
Mbappé is universally hailed as one of the finest attackers in the game. His astonishing speed demolishes any defensive formation of the opponents. His highly accurate finishing is equally matched by his intelligent passing inside the box.
The young footballer has appeared in only two FIFA World Cups so far and is the highest goal scorer among active players for his country at the mega tournament. At the 2018 edition of the tournament, he became the youngest French goalscorer in World Cup history, the second teenager to score two goals in a World Cup match after Pelé, and the second teenager after Pelé to score in a World Cup final match.
Mbappé has won three of the last four Ligue 1 Player of the Year Awards and collected the league champion title five times as a player for Monaco and PSG.
(Main image: Andrés Iniesta/@andresiniesta8/Twitter; Featured image: Leo Messi/@leomessi/Instagram)