The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2020: Messi Wins, Mbappe Rises

When it comes to measuring the greatest players in the world’s most beautiful game, the focus inevitably turns to a pair of rivals with household names and exclusive claim to being the only team-sport athletes to earn $1 billion during their careers. It may be time to make room for a third.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo top this year’s Forbes ranking of the highest-paid soccer players once again, after Messi resolved a weeks-long contract drama to land the top spot with $126 million, nudging out Juventus’s Ronaldo who comes in at No. 2 with $117 million. But Soccer fans have a new object of fascination in Kylian Mbappe, the Paris Saint-Germain striker who lands fourth place with $48 million.

Mbappe is the rising hot shot of both the Paris club and the French national team, amassing 103 goals in all competitions since turning professional five years ago. At age 19, he became the youngest player to score a World Cup goal after legend Pele, who did it in 1958 at age 17, helping the French team win its second title in history. He’s ahead of the game’s two leaders when they were his age: The two-time top goal scorer in France’s Ligue 1 already has 12 more career goals than Messi had at age 21 and 76 more than Ronaldo. 

He’s also making a heck of a lot more than they were at his age too. The kid from Bondy, a poor Parisian suburb, became the sport’s most expensive teenager when the Paris club shelled out $215 million to his former club Monaco for his rights in 2017 and signed him to a contract that will pay him $28 million this season. Nike and luxury watchmaker Hublot both feature him prominently and EA Sports announced him as their cover boy for FIFA 21, making him one of the brand’s youngest-ever to grace the cover solo.

The 21-year-old is topped on the list once again this year by teammate Neymar (No. 3, $96 million), but the dynamic is poised to shift as Mbappe is expected to get a bumper new contract in 2022 when his current contracts ends..

In all, the top 10 players in the world are expected to pull in $570 million in salary, bonus and endorsements this upcoming season, barring no further pandemic pauses that led to 30-70% pay cuts last Spring across European leagues. The combined haul is up 11% from the 2019-20 season.

1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona

Total Earnings: $126 million

Salary: $92 million | Endorsements: $34 million

It took FC Barcelona 105 years to win 64 trophies before Messi joined in 2005. In the past 16 he’s led the team to 34 trophy wins, a performance that has landed his name among the sport’s greats — and earned him $1 billion of pretax career earnings. This year he dragged the soccer world through weeks of cliffhanger drama as he fought with the club about playing out the final year of his contract. He stayed, and stands to collect $92 million for doing so, but Messi watch 2021 is in full force with all eyes peeled for clues to where he will land next.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus

Total Earnings: $117 million

Salary: $70 million | Endorsements: $47 million

Ronaldo is the most popular athlete on the planet with 457 million social media followers. He’s also the most engaged, per Hookit, regularly displaying his zero percent body fat and poster boy good looks for his CR7 lifestyle branded wear, health and wellness sponsors like Herbalife and Clear shampoo, and his lifetime sponsor Nike. In July, he posted a video of himself narrating an encouraging letter he wrote to 10-year old, Brazilian soccer prodigy, Julia Rosado, and her reaction as she received it, along with the Swoosh’s latest Flight Ball. He is only the second man in history, after Iran’s Ali Daei, to have scored over 100 international goals, recently passing the mark in Portugal’s UEFA Nations League match against Sweden.

3. Neymar, Jr., Paris Saint-Germain

Total Earnings: $96 million

Salary: $78 million | Endorsements: $18 million

The 28-year old Brazilian striker, one of the most polarizing players in the game for his antics on and off the pitch, quadrupled his pay and criticism when he traded playing alongside Messi in Barcelona for Paris-Saint-Germain in August 2017. Between his record $263 million transfer fee and his average $70 million salary, PSG is spending more than $600 million to keep him in the French capital. This summer Nike ended its relationship with Neymar allowing him to sign with Puma. He opened Ligue 1’s 2020-21 season with a red card for taking a swipe to the back of Marseille’s Alvaro Gonzalez head after he heard the opponent racially abuse him.

4. Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain

Total Earnings: $42 million

Salary: $28 million | Endorsements: $14 million

For a second year in a row, Mbappe was named the Ligue 1 Golden Boot winner, which honors the player with the most goals for the league. His club also repeated as league champions, declared so last season on a points-per-match basis after play was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 21-year old was also tapped for the coveted EA Sports FIFA 21 game cover, making him one of the youngest ever players to do so solo. He was forced to spend Ligue 1’s 2020-21 season opener in quarantine after he tested positive for Covid-19, but was asymptomatic according to his lawyer.

5. Mohamed Salah, Liverpool

Total Earnings: $37 million

Salary: $24 million | Endorsements: $13 million

Salah has reached the 20-goal mark across all competitions in each of the last three seasons at Liverpool, and helped propel the club to its first Premier League title in 30 years in 2019-20. He has the highest win rate of any league player to have appeared in over 100 matches. In Liverpool’s 2020-21 opening match he scored a hat trick, the first player in Premier League history to do so. In February, the 28-year old teamed up with long-term sponsor Vodafone to become an ambassador for a UN program that brings digital learning tools to refugees in his native Egypt.

6. Paul Pogba, Manchester United

Total Earnings: $34 million

Salary: $28 million | Endorsements: $6 million

Pogba’s current deal expires next summer, although United have the option to extend it one more year. The French striker scared fans in early August posting on social media that he had signed for Verdansk F.C. It turned out to be a fictional club and a stunt by sponsor Activation to promote Call of Duty: Warzone Season 5. The 27-year old has also appeared with Messi and Salah in Pepsi’s “Play Never Stops” campaign. 

7. Antoine Griezmann, Barcelona

Total Earnings: $33 million

Salary: $28 million | Endorsements: $5 million

Since the Frenchman’s disappointing debut at Barcelona this past season, rumors have swirled that the club is negotiating to swap him to PSG in return for Neymar, at the request of Messi. Griezmann is an avid Brooklyn Nets fan, often jetting over the U.S. for games and frequently posting his support on social media. Nets star Kevin Durant even helped Barca unveil Griezmann’s uniform switch from No. 17 to No. 7 ahead of the 2020-21 season. In January, he launched Grizi Esports to compete in FIFA, Fortnite, CS:Go, and Rainbow Six. 

8. Gareth Bale, Barcelona

Total Earnings: $29 million

Salary: $23 million | Endorsements: $6 million

Bale continues to butt heads with manager Zinedine Zidane and is the most expensive bench warmer in sport right now. He played in just two of Madrid’s last 11 La Liga matches and then was left off the club’s 24-man Champions League squad in early August. The Welshman is an avid golfer and has pitched Taylor Made products and events on social media. 

9. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich

Total Earnings: $28 million

Salary: $24 million | Endorsements: $4 million

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, France Football, organizers of the Ballon d’Or, decided to cancel the individual award for the world’s best player. In doing so it is robbing Lewandowski who was the clear favorite to win. Across all competitions, the Polish striker has directly contributed to 65 goals for Bayern this season — 55 goals and 10 assists in 47 matches. In the Champions League, he scored in every match up until the final against PSG which his team won on a lone goal by teammate Kingsley Coman. Off the pitch, he is one of the most popular athletes on TikTok with 2.4 million followers. 

10. David De Gea, Manchester United

Total Earnings: $27 million

Salary: $24 million | Endorsements: $3 million

De Gea’s $25 million salary makes him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world. In July, he made his 400th appearance in goal in his ninth year with Man United and broke the club record for the most shutouts. He’s been married to his wife, popular Spanish singer and actress Edune, since 2010 and frequently promotes her work on his social media accounts.

Methodology

To compile our list, 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 for the 2020-21 season, bonuses and endorsements. Transfer fees are excluded. Earnings are pre-tax.

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