Forbes released its annual list of the highest-paid footballers (soccer players, for the magazine) for 2021, with Cristiano Ronaldo reclaiming the number one spot. Lionel Messi comes in second with PSG having a total of three representatives. Serie A is the only top-five league not to have a player in the list while the most surprising addition comes from Japan’s J-League.
The Bundesliga has one familiar face also as salaries form the bulk of earnings for each player. FootTheBall runs down the list of the top earners of the year, many of whom also draw the highest wages.
1. CRISTIANO RONALDO, MANCHESTER UNITED
TOTAL EARNINGS: $125M ($70M SALARY+$55M ENDORSEMENTS)
The return of the Portuguese to United was one of the two most mind-boggling stories of the summer. Ronaldo was top-scorer in Serie A last season along with the Euros as well, but a stunning move back to England was always thought to be far-fetched. Not only was it made a reality, his jerseys became the fastest to sell out for a Red Devil ever. Ronaldo’s salary is just behind Messi and Neymar, but he more than makes up for through brand partnerships.
Sales of Manchester United ‘Ronaldo 7’ shirts hit £32.5m in the first 12 hours since Manchester United officially announced Ronaldo’s squad number, breaking the record for the fastest selling shirt online in PL history. pic.twitter.com/Xb1KfX2SX0
— Oddschanger (@Oddschanger) September 4, 2021
Nike, Herbalife, Clever all count him amongst their most profitable athletes while his own CR7 brand has grown to include perfume, underwear, hotels, and more. Ronaldo has already scored four times in three matches and shows no signs of slowing down on or off the field.
2. LIONEL MESSI, PSG
TOTAL EARNINGS: $110M ($75M SALARY+$35M ENDORSEMENTS)
After a protracted saga of negotiations and uncertainty, the harsh truth of the matter came to light which was that Barcelona could no longer afford Messi. His boyhood club had spent recklessly for years and had to pay the price by letting the six-time Ballon D’Or winner walk away. There were not a lot of clubs who could have taken on his salary and it was PSG which stepped in.
From scoring his first professional goal 15 years ago to scoring his 644th and breaking a 46-year record. Year after year, goal after goal Leo Messi continues to re-write history.
After all, records are only there to be broken. pic.twitter.com/mb5QU2jPiy
— adidas Football (@adidasfootball) December 23, 2020
Messi became the highest salaried player, on par with buddy Neymar, while sponsorship deals with Adidas, Pepsi, Budweiser rake in the rest of the moolah. Even though he has not scored yet for his new club, there is no doubt that PSG are an even scarier opposition to face now along with their worldwide image getting bigger.
3. NEYMAR, PSG
TOTAL EARNINGS: $95M ($75M SALARY+$20M ENDORSEMENTS)
The Brazilian’s transfer to PSG for $263m in 2017 created headlines across the world, given the massive sum involved. It remains the highest fee paid for a player and with the new contract extension he signed in May, became the most well earning too. His sponsorship contract with Nike ended under a cloud of mystery, over an allegation of assault from a former employee.
Nevertheless, he was soon snapped by Puma with whom Neymar dropped a “creative collection” this year. Furthermore, his exclusive deal with Triller for making video content also rewards handsomely.
4. KYLIAN MBAPPE, PSG
TOTAL EARNINGS: $43M ($25M SALARY+$18M ENDORSEMENTS)
The most coveted player in the world, right now? Quite possibly so. Mbappe’s future has dominated talks for some time given his current contract runs out next year. That is why he was offered a bumper deal over the summer, many times, that would have seen his earning match the levels of Neymar.
Your FIFA 22 cover star is Kylian Mbappe ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/SdvUWO9AJh
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 9, 2021
However, with a move to Real Madrid touted since ages, his relatively “low” current salary is set to explode. Furthermore, Mbappe has already been scoring at a greater rate than either of Ronaldo or Messi were at this age. EA Sports has made him the cover of the upcoming FIFA 22, following on from the same with FIFA 21 last year.
5. MOHAMED SALAH, LIVERPOOL
TOTAL EARNINGS: $41M ($25M SALARY+$16M ENDORSEMENTS)
The Egyptian attacker has been a major force in the Premier League since he joined in 2017. Salah became the latest entrant to the Centurion club, becoming the fastest to do so in England. No player has outscored him over the past three seasons combined as he added the league title and Champions League to his glittering CV.
"To score 100 goals in the Premier League as a winger is something I am happy and I am proud of. Hopefully I can keep going like that.”@MoSalah reflects on being named the @StanChart Player of the Month for August 🙌
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) September 15, 2021
With talks of a new deal progressing well, Salah’s presence with Liverpool has helped reduce hate crimes in the city by 16% and anti-Muslim tweets by half.
6. ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI, BAYERN MUNICH
TOTAL EARNINGS: $35M ($25M SALARY+$8M ENDORSEMENTS)
The European Golden Boot winner after scoring a frankly ridiculous 41 goals in 29 games last season. Lewandowski has been a striking machine, having not drawn a duck since February as well as finding the net 13 times in a row at home (another record).
Though his current contract runs till 2023, there has been talk of him moving on sooner, especially if Erling Haaland signs. Lewandowski has also launched his own RL9 brand of clothing, while he also stars for Nike, Huawei and Head & Shoulders among others.
7. ANDRES INIESTA, VISSEL KOBE
TOTAL EARNINGS: $31M ($31M SALARY+$4M ENDORSEMENTS)
The only player outside of Europe, Iniesta joined Vissel in 2018 after more than two decades with the Blaugrana. Since then, he has won the Emperor’s Cup, helped qualify for the AFC Champions League for the first time along with lifting the Japanese Super Cup last year.
📝 DEAL DONE: Andrés Iniesta has signed a two-year contract extension at Vissel Kobe, keeping him in Japan until at least 2023.
The former Barcelona man turns 37 today as well. Not a bad birthday present.
— Transfer News Live (@DeadlineDayLive) May 11, 2021
With his contract set to run out this year, his extension was announced in a brilliant video through the club’s Twitter page in a deal that runs till 2023.
8. PAUL POGBA, MANCHESTER UNITED
TOTAL EARNINGS: $34M ($27M SALARY+$7M ENDORSEMENTS)
It has become an every year thing when Pogba’s future with United is up in the air. Nevertheless, the signings of Ronaldo and Raphael Varane has seen him become a happy chap. That has reflected in his performances with seven assists already in five games.
— Premier League (@premierleague) September 19, 2021
Pogba remains one of the highest earners with the Red Devils while he is also in the middle of a 10-year shoe deal with Adidas worth $45m. If he does remain beyond next summer, his salary can justifiably increase further.
9. GARETH BALE, REAL MADRID
TOTAL EARNINGS: $32M ($26M SALARY+$6M ENDORSEMENTS)
The Welshman’s career of late has gotten rather subdued, especially under Zidane Zidane who shipped him out to Spurs last season. With new manager Carlo Ancelotti at the helm, Bale is back in Madrid and in the team.
📅 8 Years Ago Today:
🏟️ 254 Games
⚽ 106 Goals
🎯 68 Assists
🏆🏆🏆Club World Cup
🏆Copa del Rey
😅 He’s scored some special goals along the way! pic.twitter.com/zKz5dZyYVO
— SPORF (@Sporf) September 14, 2021
Though he remains sidelined for now, his future in the sport is always under a cloud given his affinity with golf. Bale has become a sponsor with golf club-maker TaylorMade alongside his other long running deals.
10. EDEN HAZARD, REAL MADRID
TOTAL EARNINGS: $29M ($26M SALARY+$3M ENDORSEMENTS)
It has been well established by now that Hazard has failed to live up to the expectations that were set for him upon joining in 2019. He has missed 59 games over the past two seasons due to injury or poor form.
🎙| Eden Hazard: “This season at Real Madrid is going to be good. I know it will be a good season for me, but also for Real Madrid. Winning matches, taking prizes, scoring goals, finding the joy of playing, dribbling. Yes, very sure. I have no doubts about that.” pic.twitter.com/morBXpe57x
— Madrid Xtra. (@MadridXtra) September 1, 2021
It will be no surprise if Madrid sell him next year but his massive wages are a stumbling block for any prospective suitor. Nevertheless, the Belgian remains the face of McDonald’s in his country as well as for Nike and Nissan.