The world’s two top soccer players have flipped spots and wear new jerseys but have familiar paychecks, earning a combined $235 million this season.
Before 24 hours had passed on the news that soccer great Cristiano Ronaldo had ditched Italy’s Juventus to join England’s Manchester United, the superstar striker became the bestselling player on the Fanatics sports merchandise site.
He topped the sales of other top players who have jumped teams in recent years, including the NFL’s Tom Brady in 2020, the NBA’s LeBron James in 2018 and MLB’s Bryce Harper in 2019.
But his sweetest win may have been outselling soccer rival Lionel Messi, who just weeks earlier had announced he was leaving Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain.
It’s the kind of selling power that comes from being the world’s most popular athlete—one with more than a combined half-billion followers across Facebook (149 million), Instagram (344 million) and Twitter (94.3 million)—and helped him reclaim the top spot on this year’s Forbesranking of the highest-paid soccer players in the world.
Ronaldo is set to earn $125 million before taxes in the 2021-22 season, with $70 million coming from salary and bonus for his return to United, where between 2003 and 2009 he delivered three consecutive Premier League titles and a Champions League crown.
The rest comes from personal endorsements and partnerships with brands including Nike, Herbalife, Clear and his ever-expanding CR7-branded portfolio that includes perfume, underwear, eyewear, hotels, gyms and more.
Only three other active athletesmake more commercially: Roger Federer ($90 million), LeBron James ($65 million) and Tiger Woods ($60 million).
And Ronaldo is showing no signs of slowing down, with the 36-year-old still outperforming plenty of his opponents in Europe, most of whom are 10 years his junior:
Ronaldo marked his return to Man U’s Old Trafford by hitting the back of the net twice. He now has four goals in three games on the season in the world’s best league.
Knocked out of the No. 1 spot is his longtime rival, the 34-year-old Lionel Messi, who after 21 years at Barcelona—and a soap-opera year of departure drama—jumped to PSG, where he will be paid $75 million this season, helping put him at No. 2 on the list with $110 million.
Messi was forced to jump after Spain’s La Liga clamped down on FC Barcelona’s wage spending, forcing the club to end negotiations with its record six-time world’s top player of the year, who had played for Barça since he was 13 years old.
He’ll pad his PSG paycheck with an estimated $35 million in endorsements from the likes of Adidas, Pepsi, watchmaker Jacobs & Co. and Budweiser, which he just picked up last year under a three-year deal.
In total, the ten highest-paid soccer players are expected to collect pretax earnings of $585 million this season, up from last year’s $570 million.
Salary and bonus make up the bulk of the total—$415 million—and are up a modest 2.6% from last year as most clubs continue to be cautious in the face of uncertainty around emerging Covid-19 strains.
In May, UEFA, Europe’s governing body of soccer, released a report that said its top-flight clubs were facing a whopping $8.5 billion pandemic-related revenue loss, putting a damper on major player movement.
Still, the big-ticket jumps at the top of the list show the lucrative earning power of global soccer’s top players, who outearned their peers in North America’s MLS by a factor of ten.
PSG now claims three of the world’s five highest-paid players, including the 29-year-old Neymar, who lands at No. 3 once again with $95 million, and the 22-year-old Kylian Mbappe, who is No. 4 with $43 million.
Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, 29, rounds out the top five with $41 million. This year, the 37-year-old Andres Iniesta returns as the only player from a non-European team, landing at No. 7 with $35 million after signing a two-year contract extension with Vissel Kobe in Japan, his club since he left Barcelona in 2018.
To compile our list, we spoke with clubs, players’ agents, commercial sponsors and worldwide soccer experts.
All figures are converted to U.S. dollars using the current exchange rate and include salaries (pretax) for the 2021-22 season, bonuses and endorsements. Transfer fees are excluded.
Source | Forbes