Cha-Ching! Soccer’s Highest-Paid Players
Deep pockets and pretty goals. Fat checks and sweet kicks. Here’s the list of highest paid players in soccer. The list that will make you regret your life’s decisions and wish you practiced just a bit harder back in grade school, because life’s pretty good for Leo Messi, the Barcelona star netting around $115 million every year.
9. Sergio Aguero
The 30-year-old Argentinian knows how to twist the twine, or in layman’s terms: score goals. He, like fellow Argentinian Lionel Messi, is a goal scoring machine programmed to put the ball in the back of the net. A fleet-footed striker, the 5-foot-8 Aguero plays for Manchester City in England’s Premier League.
Since 2011, Aguero has been netting beautiful goals at an almost alarming rate. In fact, he currently holds the highest goals per minute ratio in the Premier League’s illustrious history. Sadly, at least for Argentina fans, Aguero hasn’t been able to help his country hoist soccer’s greatest prize: the FIFA World Cup Trophy.
Prior to joining Manchester City, Aguero played five years for Atletico Madrid where he became one of La Liga’s most dominant strikers. But what tends to be the case is Atletico Madrid is overshadowed by the two-headed La Liga beast of Barcelona and Real Madrid, forcing to seek employment elsewhere, where the chance of winning increases dramatically.
When Aguero’s not tearing up defenders in the Premier League, he’s suited up for the Argentinian National Team, embarrassing hopeless defenders on a regular basis. For Argentina, Aguero has played in three World Cups, leading, alongside Messi, Argentina to a second-place finish following their 1-0 defeat against Germany. Not to worry, he won an Olympic gold during the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
For his services, Manchester United shells out a hefty $23.5 million per year. For reference, the highest paid MLS player is Kaka, a Brazilian striker who made $7.1 million while playing in the United States. Clearly there is a vast discrepancy in leagues, from both a pay and quality of play standpoint.
But for Manchester, the money seems to be a good investment. So far, Aguero has guided his squad to three Premier League titles and is his club’s top goal scorer in history. At this rate, Aguero could very well dethrone Alan Shearer as the Premier League’s all-time leading goal scorer.
8. Luis Suarez
He’s everyone’s favorite hand-ball committing, neck-biting soccer player. He’s ultra-talented and ultra-controversial. He is Luis Suarez! With a proclivity to bite and score, Suarez is one of the most dangerous players on the pitch. The career of Luis Suarez has been great, albeit weird and at times downright frustrating, and often it’s self-induced.
He is considered one of the world’s top talents and scorers. He has been a marquee figure for the Uruguayan National Team, a cornerstone at F.C. Barcelona, and a leader at other European clubs he’s played for. His remarkable ball-handling skills and prowess for scoring has put Suarez in truly elite company.
But Suarez and his elite offensive skills just can’t seem to avoid controversy. During the 2010 World Cup, with the game tied at 2-2 and in extra time, Suarez blatantly blocked a potential game-winning header from Ghana. On the ensuing penalty kick, Ghana’s shot sailed over the cross bar. Eventually, Uruguay would prevail in a shootout, ending Ghana’s hopes of advancing. This move was widely chastised and solidified Suarez as one of soccer’s greatest villains.
The 2014 World Cup followed a similar path for the troubled Suarez. During a match against Italy, Suarez, getting frustrated with Italy’s stout defense, decided to take matters into his own … mouth. In disgusting fashion, Suarez, while battling for position with an Italian defender, decided to take a bite out of the defender’s shoulder. Following this gross display of sportsmanship, Suarez dove to the ground, clutching his face. It is no wonder that he is so disliked and has earned a reputation as one soccer’s biggest floppers. Seriously, Luis, no one enjoys flopping.
Although Suarez has earned a rather unforgiving and well warranted reputation as one of soccer’s dirtiest players, teams just can’t get enough of him. He has dominated for some of the biggest clubs in the world and has made Uruguay one of South America’s most formidable countries. Besides being married to one of soccer’s most beautiful WAGs in Sofia Balbi, Suarez is making money hand over fist.
His regular salary is $19.9 million and he nets another $7 million in endorsements. It remains a mystery why companies still want to associate with the controversial Suarez, a move that is high-risk and low-reward. But hey, for some people or brands, any publicity is good publicity. Maybe that’s the strategy when working with a turbulent character such as Suarez.
7. Wayne Rooney
One of England’s most-coveted players in their famed history, Wayne Rooney has been in England’s Premier League since 16. Yes, Wayne Rooney was scoring goals for Everton at 16. He could make millions and alter the mood of an entire country but, even in England, this youngster couldn’t even buy a beer.
At the time of his first goal, Rooney became the youngest player in Premier League history to bury a shot into the back of the net. The record has since been surpassed, but the fanfare associated with England’s very own Rooney hasn’t declined an ounce. He simply captured the attention of the nation, and rightfully so.
After two years in Everton, the teenage sensation moved to one of England’s most prestigious clubs, Manchester United, and proved to be worth every penny. During his glorious 13-season run at Old Trafford, Rooney would run stride-for-stride with the sky-high expectations England set for him. Unlike many other young prodigies who crash and burn, fizzling out far too quickly, Rooney lasted and thrived.
Some of his individual and team accolades include: five Premier League titles, one Champion League title, and the second-highest scorer in Premier League history. His famous bicycle kicks have also earned him multiple Goals of the Year awards. On the outside, the stocky Rooney doesn’t appear to be the most formidable athlete, but once the game begins, Rooney’s repertoire of fancy kicks and amazing plays quickly dispel any preconceived notions.
Representing England, Rooney has also defied the odds and made a name for himself as one of his country’s greatest players. He is England’s all-time leader in goals and second-most capped player. He’s participated in three World Cups and captained his country on numerous occasions. What he hasn’t been able to do is help England win the World Cup.
This past season, the slightly-aging Rooney returned to his first club – Everton — and shined, potentially finishing his career where it began. He is set to make $22 million in salary and a nice $5 million from endorsements from companies such as Nike, Samsung, and Harper Collins. Somehow, despite numerous scandalous incidents and problems with the law, Rooney keeps on landing some of the world’s top sponsors.
This isn’t the best actor. This isn’t the best soccer player in Brazil. This isn’t the best soccer player on the list. This is, however, the sixth highest-paid player in soccer, and that honor goes to Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior, better (and thankfully) known as just Oscar. Quite possibly the most disgruntled player on this list, Oscar has somewhat fallen out of favor with the Brazilian National Team for reasons that remain a first-rate mystery.
Oscar has been a relative staple on the ever-rotating rosters that make up the Brazilian team, having scored 12 goals in 47 senior-team appearances since 2011. He was an influential player on the 2014 World Cup team and was the lone goal-scorer in that nightmarish 7-1 defeat against Germany. Following that disheartening defeat, Brazil went on to lose 3-0 against the Netherlands in the third-place game. Ouch. This was their World Cup. It was held in Brazil and they were supposed to win. Some consolation for the talented attacking midfielder was taking home the silver medal in the 2012 Olympics two years prior.
Besides Oscar’s seemingly questionable fall from grace on the national side of things, why else is he considered to be a bit of a pariah? It certainly isn’t because of his production. In his five seasons with Premier League fixture Chelsea, Oscar became one of the team’s most dynamic players, able to provide offense at any moment.
However, like any normal human being, when money talks, you listen. In 2016, Shanghai SIPG of the Chinese Super League broke the news of their signing of Oscar for an Asian record transfer fee of 60 million pounds. No one in their right mind would turn that down and balk at the chance to dominate while being paid straight from the Brinks truck.
Despite being far away from soccer’s nucleus in Europe, Oscar has still managed to capture the spotlight. In a wild game, Oscar deliberately booted the ball directly into the chests of two separate players, inciting an all-out brawl. For his actions, he was fined a hefty chunk of change that, in all reality, won’t affect his bank account in the slightest. He was also suspended.
As China continues to grow on the global stage, they realized that soccer was the next platform they needed to conquer. It, after all, is the global sport, and having a popular, relevant league can increase a country’s international standing while injecting tons of capital into the economy. For his efforts in recruiting top-notch talent to China, Oscar is being paid $25.9 million! So, the high-scoring midfielder is racking up millions while easily being one of the top-five players in the league. On the side, he nets $1.5 million in endorsements, just some casual beer money.
5. Paul Pogba
Ah, how sweet it must be to be only 25 and make a list of highest-paid athletes. Oh, how sweet it must be to make said list and be in its top five. For Paul Pogba, this isn’t a drill, it’s not a dream, and it sure isn’t a fantasy. Nope, it’s reality.
Considered a prodigy from a young age, Pogba has not disappointed. As he rose through the ranks of French soccer faster than Napoleon conquered Europe in his heyday, Pogba started to garner the spotlight. He became the face of the young generation of French soccer players destined to lead Les Bleus back to the top of the soccer world. So far, it appears Pogba is on that path. Despite being only 25, Pogba has already participated in two World Cups, the first being in 2014. During the 2018 World Cup, Pogba is the face of a French team that has experts scratching their heads.
If they play up to their potential, winning the World Cup doesn’t seem to be a far-fetched notion. If they can’t fit all of the pieces of the puzzle together, they will bow out early once again. When Pogba isn’t representing his country, he is suiting up Manchester United. Originally Pogba’s first senior club team, Manchester United and Pogba’s original stint together was anything but silky-smooth.
He only made three appearances before departing for Juventus, a top-flight club in Italy. In Italy, the potent goal-scorer and deft ball-handler’s skills fully emerged. In his four years playing for Juventus, Pogba became one of Europe’s most formidable players and arguably the top player in Italy’s Serie A. Although he may be French, he’s a true Italian stallion.
These few years of dominance paved the way for Pogba’s return to his first major club, Manchester United. In a then-record transfer fee, Pogba returned to England on a mission to dispel rumors that England’s stage was too daunting for the young Frenchman. That rumor is still up-in-the-air to an extent, as Manchester United hasn’t secured a Premier League title since 2012-13 and lost to their bitter crosstown-rivals Manchester City this past season.
Regardless of what the press or armchair coaches across the globe think of Pogba, the offensive-minded midfielder is set to make $25 million in salary with an additional $4.5 million coming in through endorsements. If Pogba and his French squad falter in the World Cup, he should have no problem jetting off for a lavish vacation to ease his troubled mind. Drinks on Paul, everyone!
4. Gareth Bale
The top-three earners on this list are absolutely astronomical. The salaries and endorsement deals are just out-of-this-world. It’s not really fathomable to the average man just how much those players are making. To be fair, none of the numbers on this list are really fathomable for most readers. The No. 4 spot is a steep drop-off from the top-three, although it’s more money than most of us will ever see in this life and the next, combined.
The drop-off isn’t for a lack of talent or marketability; it’s just a simple matter of how there are different tiers of talent and celebrity that comprise the sports world. There’s LeBron and Kobe, and everyone else. Brady and Manning, and everyone else. Crosby and Ovechkin, and everyone else. You get the picture.
At the top tier, there are a very select few. It’s elite company that consists of the world’s most famous, athletic, and decorated athletes. The tier below the pinnacle is nothing to scoff at, but sees a slight decline in fame and fortune, in talent and titles. Gareth Bale, the Welsh national and powerful winger for Real Madrid, finds himself just outside of the top tier. He’s oh so close, but just doesn’t crack it. He’s got the super-cars, the over-stuffed trophy case, the lucrative contract and sponsorship deals, and the model wife.
Life for him is near-perfect, so don’t feel too bad for the man for falling to the fourth spot. Although Bale lives a relatively secluded, private life, the man is still cashing checks at a rapid clip. For his soccer skills, the four-time Champions League winner, one-time La Liga champion, and former Premier League and Welsh Football Player of the Year winner earns a hefty $28.6 million.
The man has a sweet bicycle kick and an even sweeter paycheck. According to Bale, who is an avid supercar owner, supercars cramp his long, powerful legs a bit too much, forcing him to settle for the ultimate suburban mom SUV — a Range Rover. Poor Gareth! Being spotted in a Range Rover is so demoralizing.
Off the field, the 6-foot-1 winger has deals with — to name a few — Adidas, Footlocker, Nissan, and Sony. These brands are highly passionate about having their name associated with a player so well respected and feared. In total, Bale earns $6 million in sponsorships, a number that may likely climb higher and higher as Bale continues to dominate for country and club.
Brazil is a nation steeped in soccer history. Their players have redefined how the game is played, adding a unique flair and zest for fluid offense. Brazil has won a record five World Cups, and their fan base is unmatched in passion and pride. In America, there are two certainties: death and taxes. In Brazil, there are three: death, taxes, and love of soccer.
For Neymar, carving out his place in the annals of Brazilian soccer history has been no small task, no easy feat. The 5-foot-9 forward has suffered numerous devastating injuries that could have derailed his promising career. Fortunately for Neymar, and fans of his amazing arsenal of offensive moves, nothing can hold him back.
When Neymar broke through to the professional ranks, the Brazilian was just 17. After a few years of jaw-dropping performances playing in his home country, Neymar was signed by world powerhouse F.C. Barcelona. After proving his worth at Barcelona for three successful seasons – despite being surrounded by some of of the world’s best talent—Neymar was signed by Paris Saint-Germain for a record transfer fee.
On the international side of things, Neymar has already solidified himself as one of the best, most dynamic players in Brazilian history. He currently sits at third all-time in goals scored for Brazil, only behind Pele and Ronaldo. He’s an Olympic gold and silver medalist and is Brazil’s unquestioned leader for the 2018 World Cup.
For his stellar play, unique looks, and extreme marketability, Neymar commands a massive $73 million in salary in addition to $17 million in endorsements.
What Neymar can provide for his club off the field is almost as valuable as what he does for it on the field. He can singlehandedly grow a fan base and attract record number of spectators to some of Europe’s largest stadiums where spectators eagerly wait for him to touch the ball in anticipation of a flashy move or electrifying goal.
So long as the talented forward can stay on the field, his trophy case should start filling up quickly and his bank account will remain as happy as his fans. With Neymar, health is the big what if. Hopefully he goes down as a player defined by what he did, not what injuries did to him.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Oh how this must burn the eyes of the die-hard Ronaldo fans who can barely stand to see their beloved player on a list below Messi. How could their self-proclaimed GOAT fall below a player who stands at only 5-foot-7 and looks like a pre-pubescent figure if you exclude his tattoos? This is a David versus Goliath type upset.
This is Adidas sticking it to Nike, the athletic company who signed the Portuguese forward to a record-breaking lifetime endorsement deal that, when it’s all said and done, will be worth over $1 billion. And that brings us to Ronaldo and his wide array of endorsements. He’s a soccer player and also a walking billboard who promotes nearly everything under the sun.
The Real Madrid star rakes in a record $47 million annually through the various sponsors that covet this global icon. Besides Nike, Ronaldo has (or had) deals with TAG Heuer, Samsung, and Pokerstars.com. Again, this is an incomplete list that paints just a small picture of how Ronaldo earns a portion of his fortunes.
His Instagram account has 131 million followers, most of which idolize him. Aside from his sponsorship deals, Ronaldo pulls in 61 million from his club Real Madrid, a hefty fee that is worth every penny. With Ronaldo on the squad, Real is a constant threat to win La Liga and is in contention every year to win the Champions League.
Since putting the soccer world on notice as a teenager, Ronaldo has gone on to win a record-tying five Ballon d’Or trophies and four European Golden Shoe awards, an award given to the player who scores the most goals in one season across Europe.
Clearly, the skill and marketability that Ronaldo provides both to his club and the brands that align with him is unprecedented.
At 33 years old, Ronaldo should be scoring goals and raking in cash for the foreseeable future. Only time will tell whether or not Ronaldo officially will go down as the GOAT, but what is already certain is that he is the GOAT of endorsements and marketing, with no player even coming in a distant second.
1. Lionel Messi
Over the latter part of this past decade, two players have vied for the top spot on soccer’s list of highest-paid players: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They duked it out like Tyson and Holyfield, like Magic and Bird. The two are the heavyweights of their division that no one, except each other, can seem to dethrone.
They’ve been on two separate paths that run head-on to each other with an imminent collision happening in only a matter of time. And until this year, Messi couldn’t seem to dethrone his larger, higher-flying, better looking contemporary from the top spot. His earnings, much like his height, were, just, shorter.
But the times have changed, at least from a financial standpoint. Although Ronaldo’s Real Madrid has conquered the Champions League for three consecutive years, Messi and his teammates at F.C. Barcelona have won La Liga the past 3 out of 4 years, two of those victories coming at the expense of Ronaldo. Which tournament or title has more value is up to your discretion and is hotly contested, much like the GOAT debate itself, but no one can argue how influential and dominant Messi has been for Barcelona.
What Messi has done this past season, for the first time in his storied career, is dethrone Ronaldo for the title of highest-paid soccer player in the world. The Argentinian forward is currently making a whopping $84 million in salary and $27 million in endorsements, thanks to his sponsors Adidas, Gillette, and Turkish Airlines, to name just a few.
For those readers who are less inclined towards doing basic math, the sum of Messi’s salary and endorsements is an astounding $111 million. Safe to say that Messi isn’t too concerned about his personal portfolio.
In some sports, paying so much for one single athlete essentially bankrupts the team and puts them in a position where they are unable to afford signing other star talent. In Messi’s case, his hefty salary hasn’t affected Barcelona’s ability to sign top talent and the team keeps on winning. As of right now, it’s unimaginable that Messi will ever leave Barcelona for another club.
On the world stage, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has struggled in comparison to the success he’s found on the club level. It remains to be seen whether the potential GOAT will ever win a World Cup. Winner or loser, we know that Messi is going to the bank victorious.