Money makes the world go round – and the football world is flush with cash.
The beautiful game is a multi-billion pound industry, with the best football players in the world raking in vast sums with every swipe of the ball.
It’s not just displays on the pitch that boost their earnings, with increasingly lucrative sponsorship and brand deals to be had on top of their exuberant base salaries.
Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar may be considered the best three players around, but is their talent reflected by financial success?
RadioTimes.com examines the top 10 highest-paid players in the world based on various reports from around the globe.
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Highest-paid footballers in the world 2021
10. David de Gea – £19.5m
The Manchester United star is the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world – and it lands him in 10th place on the list.
David de Gea’s Old Trafford contract – worth a cool £17.5m a year – is estimated to make up the bulk of his annual earnings.
A string of blunders in the 2019/20 campaign raised question marks over his future but the Spaniard has bounced back to his best amid fierce competition from United academy graduate Dean Henderson.
9. Robert Lewandowski – £20.5m
Scooping the FIFA Men’s Player of the Year gong for 2020 was reward for Robert Lewandowski’s ruthlessness in front of goal.
The 32-year-old striker shows no signs of slowing down and is the Bundesliga’s all-time leading foreign goalscorer.
Bayern Munich fork out £17.5m per season for Lewandowski’s services – and he’s big on social media with 3.9m TikTok followers.
8. Gareth Bale – £21m
It’s fair to say the Welsh superstar has suffered a fall from grace in recent years.
Once the most expensive player in football history, Gareth Bale was frozen out by Real Madrid and sent back on loan to Tottenham for the 2020/21 season, where he is struggling to make a mark on Jose Mourinho’s team.
Bale was one of Adidas’ biggest names and, with just one year left to run on his £16m-per-season Bernabeu contract, he is likely to slip out of the top 10 in the not-too-distant future.
7. Antoine Griezmann – £24m
Barcelona’s long-anticipated signing of Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid in 2019 is the fifth most-expensive transfer in history but the versatile forward has hardly set the Nou Camp alight.
The Catalan club need to get their finances in order, so Griezmann’s £20m-per-season deal could put him in line for a move away.
He infamously celebrated a goal in the 2018 World Cup final by performing Fortnite’s ‘Take the L’ dance – and he started his own eSports team last year.
6. Paul Pogba – £25m
Paul Pogba is one of the most recognisable faces in world football but continues to divide opinion among fans and pundits.
Manchester United broke the world transfer record to bring the Frenchman back to Old Trafford from Juventus in 2016 but he’s hardly been a blockbuster success.
Pogba has 18 months left to run on his £20m-per-season contract with the Red Devils but his agent Mino Raiola has talked up the prospect of a summer transfer.
5. Mohamed Salah – £27m
A terrific buy from Roma in 2017, Mohamed Salah has been integral to Liverpool’s success in recent years.
The Egyptian has scored more than 100 goals in three-and-a-half seasons at Anfield with Jurgen Klopp’s side winning the Champions League and Premier League in that time – not bad for a £43m signing.
Salah is rewarded for his heroics with a contract worth £17.5m a year, and he is estimated to add an extra £9.5m from his off-field interests.
4. Kylian Mbappe – £31m
The leader of the next generation, Kylian Mbappe is widely tipped to take over the mantle of football’s pre-eminent superstar in the years to come.
The 22-year-old’s permanent transfer from Monaco to PSG in 2018 remains the second most expensive in history and he has already plundered more than 100 goals for the club.
He confirmed his place among the best players on the planet by scoring four times as France won the 2018 World Cup.
Mbappe’s also performing well off the pitch having graced the cover of FIFA 21 while he is one of Nike’s most marketable figures.
3. Neymar – £70m
The poster boy of Brazilian football, Neymar beefed up his bank balance by sealing a world-record £200m transfer to PSG from Barcelona in 2017.
He is paid nearly £57m a year by the French club, who have assembled a squad of stars in their bid to land the Champions League.
Perhaps a sign of his divisive nature is that he rakes in significantly less cash from sponsors than the next two men on the list.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – £85m
Apparently being the most popular athlete on the planet isn’t enough to land you a place at the top of the rich list.
Cristiano Ronaldo may be the most followed sportsperson on Instagram but his annual earnings are marginally dwarfed by one footballer.
The Portuguese superstar tops up his £51m-per-season Juventus contract with £34m in other earnings from his own CR7 brand and sponsors such as Nike and Herbalife.
He became the top goalscorer in football history with a goal for Juventus against Napoli in the 2021 Italian Super Cup to take his total for club and country to 760.
1. Lionel Messi – £92m
The Barcelona superstar is considered by many to be the greatest player on the planet – and he backs up his talent with the highest earnings.
Lionel Messi makes an annual salary of £67m at the Nou Camp, although his contract expires at the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
The Argentinian demanded an exit from Barcelona in last summer’s transfer window and is expected to find a new club when his deal runs out, with the likes of Manchester City and PSG pursuing his signature.
An extra £25m is added to his pot from endorsements and sponsorships with the likes of Adidas and Pepsi.
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