The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019: Messi, Ronaldo And Neymar Dominate The Sporting World

This past season marked the end of an era in soccer, or football to those outside of the United States whose eyes were about to bleed.

For the first time in a decade, not a single matchup took place between the two greatest players in the world, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Their epic 30-match run of El Clásico clashes, the name for the fixtures between Barcelona and Real Madrid, bitter rivals and the world’s most valuable soccer clubs, came to an end last summer when Ronaldo left Spain’s La Liga to join Juventus in Italy’s Serie A.

Also for the first time in over a decade, neither Messi nor Ronaldo won FIFA’s coveted Player of the Year Award, voted on by the international media, national team coaches and national team captains. Luka Modric, Ronaldo’s former Real Madrid teammate and captain of the Croatian national team, took that trophy home.

But as sad as the loss of this rivalry was for fans—including Messi, who admitted to missing competing against Ronaldo—it seemingly had little effect on either superstar’s performance or purse.

For the second year in a row, Messi takes the top spot among the World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players, with earnings of $127 million. Thanks to the contract extension he signed in November 2017 that commits him to Camp Nou through June 2021, he hauled in $92 million in salary and bonuses before taxes, a 9.5% bump over what he made on the pitch last year.

Part of that increase came by way of performance-incentive pay. The 32-year-old striker topped La Liga’s charts for both goals (36) and assists, marking his fifth season of 35 or more goals. It was also his sixth season in which he scored 50 or more goals across all club competitions. He shone brightly in the club’s run-up to quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League, with the Argentine the top goal scorer of that competition, hitting the back of the net 12 times in 10 appearances.

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To an already-rich list of sponsors off the pitch, including lifetime partner Adidas, Mastercard and PepsiCo soft drink and snack brands, Messi added high-end watchmaker Jacob & Co. to his portfolio this year. His first signature timepiece is a limited edition of 180 starting at $28,000. More recently, he partnered with MGO—a brand portfolio company whose chief creative officer is Tommy Hilfiger’s sister, Ginny Hilfiger—to create a signature line of clothing. It is expected to launch in July on the Messi Store, a global e-commerce site.

Ronaldo earned $109 million to come in at No. 2 among the sport’s top earners. It is a negligible increase over his tally last year, a result of taking what amounted to a pay cut to join Juventus after nine years with Real Madrid. His current four-year playing contract pays him a gross annual salary of $64 million and contains no bonus or incentives, per sources close to the deal. But hold back your tears for him.

Under the Italian tax code, Italian-sourced income, like the salary Ronaldo earns playing for Juve, is taxed at an ordinary top rate of 43%. Outside earnings are treated differently, though, and are subject only to a single, flat tax of about $115,000.

This structure bodes well for Ronaldo, a walking billboard who pitches products head to toe and earned $44 million last year doing so, almost entirely outside of Italy. It also softens the blow he was dealt this past January when he pleaded guilty to tax fraud in Spain for concealing income from commercial image rights earned between 2010 and 2014 and was ordered to pay a $21.6 million fine.

The 34-year-old Portuguese winger is making out well on the pitch, too. He scored 21 goals to lead Juventus to its eighth straight Serie A title and in the process became the first player to win league titles in Italy, Spain and England.

By Forbes’ estimates, assuming he keeps his playing contract and current sponsors and partners (amid an open sexual assault case filed against him in U.S. federal court), Ronaldo is on pace to become the third active athlete to crack the $1 billion mark in career earnings this upcoming season. Golfer Tiger Woods was the first to do so in 2009, followed by Floyd Mayweather in 2017. (Michael Jordan joined the billionaire athlete club in retirement largely because of his deal with Nike and is now worth $1.9 billion because of his ownership of the Charlotte Hornets.)

Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar Jr. made $105 million last year to round out the top three highest-earning soccer players. His transfer from Barcelona to the French capital stands as the most expensive in the world at $263 million, and his five-year, $350 million total in salary and bonuses will keep him near the top of this list through June 2022.

If a report by state-owned public television station France 2 is to be believed and his contract contains a behavior clause bonus, the 27-year-old Brazilian striker may not see all of that money. In the past three months, he’s made international headlines for all the wrong reasons.

In April, UEFA handed him a three-match suspension for insulting match officials on Instagram after Paris Saint-Germain lost to Manchester United in the Champions League. He will miss half of the group-stage competition next season. The same week, he was caught on video getting into an altercation with a fan in the stands after PSG’s loss in the French Cup and was subsequently handed a three-game suspension by his own club. Following that, his national team stripped him of his captaincy for this summer’s Copa America tournament. Then, in early June, a woman filed a rape claim against him in Brazilian court, stemming from an encounter she had with the soccer star in Paris in May. (Neymar has denied the allegations.)

This week, PSG’s chairman publicly warned Neymar through an interview with France Football that he only wants players “willing to give everything for the shirt” and that “players will have to be more responsible than before.”

Since Forbes began tracking athletes three decades ago, this is the first time the top three highest earners in soccer also sit on top of the list of The World’s Highest-Paid Athletes.

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One reason is that they are the three most popular athletes in the world on social media and produce high-quality, commercially driven posts for their sponsors that garner them big bucks.

Ronaldo is the most popular and engaging among them. His 370 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter transcend sports and make him one of the most followed people in the world. For perspective, he gained 48 million new followers in the past year, an amount that exceeds the total follower count of Manchester United and the French World Cup champion Paul Pogba (ranked No. 4 among the World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players, with total earnings of $33 million). During his last season with Real Madrid, Ronaldo generated $474 million in value for his sponsors on social media—an amazing return on their $47 million investment in him—and another $274 million for then-club sponsor Adidas.

This past season also ushered in the dawn of a new era. While his social media following has a long way to go to reach the stratosphere of the three highest-paid, PSG forward Kylian Mbappé (No. 7, $30.6 million in earnings) is generating both the quantity and the quality of buzz that position him to join their ranks, and even jump them.

The 20-year-old newcomer, the youngest on our list, had his global introduction at last year’s World Cup, scoring four goals in seven matches to help lead his French side to a championship victory. At 19, he was the second-youngest player to score a goal in the tournament, behind Brazilian soccer legend Pelé.

After winning the 2018 World Cup’s Best Young Player Award, Mbappé returned to his club and won Ligue 1’s 2019 Player of the Year Award as its 2018-19 top goal scorer. In between, he picked up endorsements with Hublot, which made him its first active player ambassador, and French baby food maker Good Gout. He hobnobbed with David Beckham. He graced the cover of Time. And he donated the $500,000 World Cup bonus he earned to a French hospital that organizes sporting events for disabled children.

His largest sponsor, Nike, also a French national team sponsor, is already thinking ahead to the 2026 World Cup, which will be cohosted by the United States. Mbappé will be just 27 then, and may very well be the only one on our current list still playing for his national team. The time to start exposing him to the market is now. Nike invited Mbappé out to its headquarters and escorted him on a mini-West Coast tour last week, complete with meetings with sporting legends LeBron James, Steve Nash and Brandi Chastain, and arranged for his Hollywood debut—throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Dodger Stadium.

“We see Kylian as a global superstar, and certainly the U.S. is a key component of the global marketplace,” said Heidi Burgett, senior director of global communications at Nike. “We certainly think Kylian has a very bright future with his joyful and fast brand of football, as well as his strong sense of purpose on and off the pitch.”

Modric, the reigning FIFA player of the year, missed our list this year. But the Croatian national team captain agreed to a new contract with Real Madrid in February that ties him to the Bernabeu until June 2021 and could land him a spot here next year. His salary reportedly matches that of his teammate Sergio Ramos, who ranks No. 19 on our list with total earnings of $21.9 million, of which $19.9 is in salary and bonus.

Nike is Modric’s largest sponsor. In 2018, he admitted in Spanish court to tax evasion and agreed to pay a fine in excess of $1.3 million. He used the same lawyer as former teammate Ronaldo.

To compile our list of the world’s highest-earning soccer players, we spoke with clubs, players’ agents, commercial sponsors and soccer experts in the U.S. and Europe. All figures are converted to U.S. dollars and include soccer salaries, bonuses and endorsements. Transfer fees are excluded. Earnings are for the period June 1, 2018, to May 31, 2019.

The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2019

20. Gerard Piqué

  • Total: $21.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $17.7M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Barcelona Nation: Spain Age: 32

In January 2018, Piqué signed a contract extension that is set to keep him at Camp Nou until June 2022 and contains a $600 million buyout clause. Off the pitch, he is president of investment firm Kosmos, backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman and CEO of Tokyo-based e-commerce company and Barcelona jersey sponsor Rakuten. The firm announced plans for a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with the International Tennis Federation to transform that sport’s Davis Cup and create a major annual season-ending World Cup of Tennis Finals. Piqué and his longtime partner, singer Shakira, met on the set of her “Waka Waka” video, filmed ahead of the 2010 World Cup, and have two children together.

19. Graziano Pelle

  • Total: $21.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.7M
  • Endorsements: $1M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Shandong Luneng Nation: Italy Age: 33

Pelle left the Premier League’s Southampton for Shandong Luneng in 2016 and became one of the sport’s highest paid. Despite interest from European clubs, he renewed with the Chinese Super League club in January.

18. Sergio Ramos

  • Total: $21.9M
  • Salary & Bonus: $19.9M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Real Madrid Nation: Spain Age: 33

Ramos held a press conference in May to put to rest speculation that he was leaving Real Madrid. He and club president Florentino Perez confirmed that a Chinese club had made him an offer but that the 33-year-old would see through his current contract, which expires in June 2020. This month, he married Pilar Rubio, a Spanish television personality and the mother of his three children, in a star-studded ceremony in Sevilla. He is currently developing a docuseries for Amazon Prime around his daily life that will feature his nuptials.

17. James Rodríguez

  • Total: $22.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $16.3M
  • Endorsements: $4.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Marc Jacobs, Hublot
  • Club: Bayern Munich through June 2019, on loan from Real Madrid Nation: Colombia Age: 27

The Colombian attacking midfielder moved to Real Madrid in a much-hyped signing after winning the Golden Boot Award at the 2014 World Cup. But after largely serving as a $15 million-a-year benchwarmer, he joined Bayern Munich on a two-year loan in July 2017. Bayern’s CEO confirmed in May that he will not take up the purchase option with Real, leaving Rodríguez in limbo ahead of the 2019-20 season. There is little doubt about his marketability off the pitch. His poster boy looks have helped him land deals with Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs and Hublot. Rodríguez’s deal with his biggest sponsor, Adidas, reportedly calls for him to wear the No. 10 jersey for every team he represents, a matter that complicates future club transfers.

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16. Thiago Silva

  • Total: $22.5M
  • Salary & Bonus: $21.5M
  • Endorsements: $1M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain Nation: Brazil Age: 34

The Brazilian captain of Paris Saint-Germain received his French citizenship in March after six and a half years playing in the country’s capital. He missed the last two months of this club season after undergoing knee surgery but recuperated in time to play in this summer’s Copa América. The 34-year-old’s current contract with PSG runs through June 2020.

15. Sergio Agüero

  • Total: $22.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $17.1M
  • Endorsements: $5.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Puma, Pepsi
  • Club: Manchester City Nation: Argentina Age: 31

The Argentine striker, affectionately nicknamed Kun as a child by his grandfather, has been the top goal scorer each season at Man City since joining in 2011. Last year he became the club’s all-time leading goal scorer, having hit the back of the net 199 times in 291 career appearances. His long-term sponsor Puma gifted him a pair of gold boots to wear to celebrate the occasion. The striker signed a one-year contract extension in September to stay with the club through 2021.

14. Luis Suárez

  • Total: $23.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.1M
  • Endorsements: $3.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Puma
  • Club: Barcelona Nation: Uruguay Age: 32

The Uruguayan’s contract with Barcelona runs through July 2021 and pays him $20 million in salary and bonus. For the third season in a row, he finished as La Liga’s second top goal scorer, behind teammate Messi. In August, he swapped his shoe sponsor, switching from Adidas to rival German sportswear maker Puma. His appeal has spread to Asia, where he pitches upstart tech gadget company Tronsmart in China and Tourism Malaysia.

13. Ángel Di María

  • Total: $23.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $21.7M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain Nation: Argentina Age: 31

The 31-year-old Argentina winger signed a contract extension with Paris Saint-Germain in October that ties him to the French champion until June 2021. This season was one of his most prolific with the club. He hit the back of the net 19 times in all club competitions and led the team in assists.

12. Mohamed Salah

  • Total: $25.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $16.1M
  • Endorsements: $9M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, EA Sports, Vodafone, DHL, AlexBank
  • Club: Liverpool Nation: Egypt Age: 26

Salah signed a five-year deal with Liverpool in July 2018 without a release clause. It contains a base and bonus structure worth at least $15 million a year. He has nabbed the Premier League Golden Boot Award the past two seasons as the league’s top goalscorer and was the league’s player of the year last season. A devout Muslim, Salah performs the sujud after scoring. Fans celebrate with him, chanting in part, “I’ll be Muslim, too.” He’s credited for reducing Islamaphobia in Liverpool. The so-called Egyptian King helped propel his club to a second consecutive UEFA Champions League final and scored the first of the club’s two goals on the way to victory this year. In March, Adidas made Salah the face of its iconic 1970s-born Adicolor line of sport and streetwear. He has appeared in Adidas commercials alongside Messi and David Beckham.

11. Gareth Bale

  • Total: $27.1M
  • Salary & Bonus: $20.6M
  • Endorsements: $6.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Wish
  • Club: Real Madrid Nation: Wales Age: 29

In October 2016, Bale signed a contract extension with Real Madrid lasting through June 2022 that has the potential to pay up to $33 million in salary and bonus annually. Bale became the first substitute to score two goals, one on a stunning overhead kick, in leading Real Madrid to a record third straight UEFA Champions League victory in 2018. His future at Real is the subject of constant speculation. Club manager Zinedine Zidane demoted him to a substitute and noted he had denied Bale a “farewell game” when he omitted him from this season’s last match. An avid golfer, Bale replicated three of the world’s most famous golf holes in his backyard. He is signed on with sponsor Adidas through 2020.

10. Antoine Griezmann

  • Total: $27.7M
  • Salary & Bonus: $23.2M
  • Endorsements: $4.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Puma, Huawei
  • Club: Atlético Madrid through May 2019 Nation: France Age: 28

In May, Griezmann announced via a video on Atlético’s Twitter account that he was leaving the Madrid club after five years playing 260 matches and scoring 133 goals. Griezmann either scored or set up eight of the 14 goals by France that helped the country win the 2018 World Cup. He infamously celebrated scoring with a Fortnite dance. The 28-year-old forward is long-sponsored by footwear maker Puma and Huawei, the Chinese tech giant whose phones are currently banned by the U.S.

9. Oscar

  • Total: $29M
  • Salary & Bonus: $27M
  • Endorsements: $2M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Shanghai SIPG Nation: Brazil Age: 27

After five years at Chelsea and two Premier League titles, Oscar made a shocking move to Shanghai SIPG of the Chinese Super League in January 2017. The 27-year-old quadrupled his weekly take-home pay and now makes over $25 million annually through 2020. Oscar had a league-high 19 assists and scored 12 goals to help SIPG win the league in 2018.

8. Mesut Özil

  • Total: $30.2M
  • Salary & Bonus: $23.7M
  • Endorsements: $6.5M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Mercedes Benz, Beats by Dre
  • Club: Arsenal Nation: Germany Age: 30

In February 2018, Özil signed a contract extension with Arsenal tying him to the club until 2021 and doubling his annual pay to about $24 million. Özil quit Germany’s national team in July 2018, citing racism by the German federation president, fans and media members who criticized him for photos with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. He and his fiancée announced they would celebrate their June 2019 nuptials by funding 1,000 life-changing surgeries for underprivileged children. Erdogan was a wedding guest. In 2018, Özil founded professional esports team M10 eSports to compete in EA Sports’ FIFA competitions. This year, he expanded by adding a Fortnite team.

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7. Kylian Mbappé

  • Total: $30.6M
  • Salary & Bonus: $26.6M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Nike, Hublot, Good Gout
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain Nation: France Age: 20

The 20-year-old Frenchman, initially on loan from Monaco, is on full contract with Paris Saint-Germain until 2022, making over $20 million annually plus performance bonuses. In 2018, the then-19-year-old Mbappé became the youngest French player to score in a World Cup and the second-youngest player, after legend Pelé, to score in a World Cup final. Mbappé won the 2018 World Cup Best Young Player Award and was its joint second-highest scorer, and then won Ligue 1’s 2019 Player of the Year Award as its 2018-19 top goal scorer. The French forward donated his $500,000 World Cup bonus to a charity that organizes sporting events for disabled children. Watchmaker Hublot made Mbappé its first active player global ambassador in 2018 and became his leading sponsor after boot sponsor Nike.

6. Alexis Sánchez

  • Total: $30.8M
  • Salary & Bonus: $28.3M
  • Endorsements: $2.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Nike
  • Club: Manchester United Nation: Chile Age: 30

Sánchez moved to Manchester United from Arsenal in January 2018 and will make between $400,000 and $500,000 weekly plus an additional $1 million bonus annually through 2022. This past season, the 30-year-old struggled with injuries and had just six goals and five assists in 37 appearances. Sánchez plays a leading role in the film Mi Amigo Alexis, released in May 2019, about a young boy from Chile who is desperate to follow in his hero’s footsteps.

5. Andrés Iniesta

  • Total: $32.5M
  • Salary & Bonus: $30M
  • Endorsements: $2.5M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Asics
  • Club: Vissel Kobe Nation: Spain Age: 35

The Spanish striker came up through Barcelona’s training academy and spent 22 years, three as captain, at the Catalan club before moving to Vissel Kobe in Japan in May 2018. Following his club move, Iniesta ended a 19-year sponsorship with Nike and signed a multiyear deal with Japanese footwear company Asics in October. Iniesta’s winery, Bodega Iniesta, began production in 2010 and includes his Minuto 116, named for the minute in the 2010 World Cup when he scored the goal that gave Spain its first title.

4. Paul Pogba

  • Total: $33M
  • Salary & Bonus: $29M
  • Endorsements: $4M
  • Largest Sponsor/Partner: Adidas
  • Club: Manchester United Nation: France Age: 26

After four years with Juventus, Pogba returned to Manchester United in 2016 for a then-record $120 million transfer fee. His five-year contract pays over $20 million a year. The French midfielder auctioned off his 2018 World Cup-winning, Adidas-sponsored shoes for over $30,000 and donated the money to disadvantaged high schoolers. Pogba’s struggle to get along with and perform under 25-time trophy winner José Mourinho is considered a main reason Man U relieved the manager of his duties in December.

3. Neymar Jr.

  • Total: $105M
  • Salary & Bonus: $75M
  • Endorsements: $30M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Nike, Red Bull, EA Sports, Mastercard, Gaga Milano, Gillette, Beats by Dre, DAZN
  • Club: Paris Saint-Germain Nation: Brazil Age: 27

Neymar is on a five-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain through June 2022 worth a total cash outlay of more than $600 million, of which $350 million will be paid in salary. His transfer from Barcelona to PSG stands as the most expensive in the world at $263 million, which the French club paid in full ahead of his signing. The 27-year-old Brazilian is the second-most-popular athlete on social media, with 223 million followers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. In 2016 Neymar was found guilty of avoiding taxes between 2011 and 2013 and paid a $1.2 million fine. This month, a woman filed a rape claim against him in Brazilian court; he denies the allegations. Neymar lost Brazil’s national team captaincy ahead of this month’s Copa América after an altercation with a fan in the stands following PSG’s loss in the French Cup.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

  • Total: $109M
  • Salary & Bonus: $65M
  • Endorsements: $44M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Nike, Herbalife, Altice, DAZN, MTG, Electronic Arts, CR7 line of denim, underwear, footwear, fragrance, hotels and gyms
  • Club: Juventus Nation: Portugal Age: 34

After nine years with Real Madrid, Ronaldo joined Italian club Juventus in July 2018 for what amounted to a pay cut. His four-year deal pays him a gross annual salary of $64 million. Juventus sold 520,000 Ronaldo jerseys worth over $60 million within a day of release. Ronaldo has won FIFA’s Player of the Year Award five times; is the first player to win Premier League, La Liga and Serie A titles; and is the all-time leading goal scorer in the UEFA Champions League. The Portuguese star is the most followed athlete on social media, with 370 million total followers. He generated $474 million in value for his sponsors on social media last year. In January, Ronaldo agreed to a $21 million fine for tax evasion between 2010 and 2014. He currently faces a rape claim case filed in federal court in the United States; he has denied the allegations.

1. Lionel Messi

  • Total: $127M
  • Salary & Bonus: $92M
  • Endorsements: $35M
  • Largest Sponsors/Partners: Adidas, Gatorade, Lays, Pepsi, Ooredoo, Mastercard, Jacobs & Co.
  • Club: FC Barcelona Nation: Argentina Age: 31

Since his debut for Barcelona in November 2013, Messi has played 687 matches for his club, scored 603 goals and won 33 club titles, including 10 La Liga championships. His current contract with Barcelona will ensure he remains a one-club man through 2020-21 and pay him over $80 million annually. He also has a lifelong deal with Adidas. He has been awarded FIFA’s Player of the Year Award five times and won the European Golden Shoe for top scorer on the Continent a record six times. In 2016 he and his agent father were convicted of tax fraud in Spanish court for avoiding income tax between 2007 and 2009. He was ordered to pay a $2.25 million fine, and his 21-month prison sentence was reduced to an additional $250,000 fine.