Top 10 Highest Paid Soccer Players in the World

The current list of the highest-paid soccer players in 2023 will look slightly different than in years prior, most notably due to the rise of the Saudi leagues and their major 9-figure contracts. Starting with Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Al-Nassr right after the 2022 World Cup, the Saudi League has completely changed the financial landscape of World Football. This list of the highest-paid players in the World will have some familiar faces, but the order and numbers will be drastically different than they were less than a year ago.

NameNationality/National TeamCurrent TeamTotal Earnings (Million USD)Salary/Winnings (Million USD)Endorsements (Million USD)
1Cristiano RonaldoPortugalAl-Nassr280-31022060-90
2Karim BenzemaFrance
Al-Ittihad14011030
3Kylian MbappéFranceParis Saint-Germain F.C.1197930
4Lionel MessiArgentinaInter-Miami1095465
5N'Golo KanteFranceAl-Ittihad108108--
6Neymar Jr.BrazilParis Saint-Germain F.C.896128
7Erling HaalandNorwayManchester City472324
8Mohamed SalahEgyptLiverpool382513
9Kalidou KoulibalySenegalAl-hilal3333NA
10Frenkie de JongNetherlandsF.C. Barcelona2323NA

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

Amidst everything going on, one thing hasn’t changed: Ronaldo remains on top, at least for now. The 38 year old legend made enormous waves when he chose to continue his career in the Middle East, and definitely drew criticism, but after he set the market, more big names followed- we’ll talk about some shortly. While it’s already somewhat outdated due to the Saudi league resetting the standard this summer, it’s worth noting that Cristiano sits atop the Forbes list of the World’s highest-paid athletes, as of the most recent edition, released in May.

Ronaldo is no stranger to big-money moves; he earned around $800 million in the decade of the 2010s, an absolutely staggering number, yet one he’s going to challenge in this decade as well, even as he ages. He’s also made multiple nine-figure moves in terms of transfer fees, but his signing at Al-Nassr was actually on a free transfer. Ronaldo’s salary at the Saudi club comes as part of a package with commercial deals included, a bundle that is believed to total around 200 million Euros per year.

Depending on the source, he also earns somewhere between 60 to 90 million US Dollars with his own off-the-field exploits, including his lifetime contract with Nike, social media promotions as he remains the most-followed person on Instagram, and countless other brand deals. While the setting may be different, one thing isn’t: the boy from Madeira has turned into a one-man mega-business, and pulls in cash wherever he goes.

2. Karim Benzema

Now this is where things begin to look different, as the top of these lists have always involved some combination of Ronaldo, Messi, and sometimes Neymar, with few football names able to break into this stratosphere of printing cash. But as I’ve mentioned, the Saudi League has changed all of that, and defending champs Al-Ittihad have brought in Karim Benzema by offering a pretty similar paycheck to what Ronaldo is receiving. Benzy signed a three-year deal over the summer, and at age 35, he could very likely spend the rest of his footballing career with the club.

While the details around these deals with Saudi clubs can often be hazy, it appears that Benzema’s football salary will be around 100 million Euros annually, while there is a commercial package associated with the agreement that should net the 2022 Ballon D’Or winner another 70 million or so per year.

Of course, Benzema isn’t the branding juggernaut that Ronaldo is, and did not even appear on the Forbes top-50 list this May, although he is sure to make it into the 2024 edition. Along with a few more stars we’ll discuss on this list, Benzema will look to raise the level of the Saudi League, and provide some solid goalscoring competition against his old Madrid teammate Ronaldo.

3. Kylian Mbappé

Another Frenchman, Mbappé has the potential to make money throughout his career that dwarfs the earnings of everyone else on this list, as the 24 year old is just getting started. This information could surely change in the near future, as a move to Real Madrid once again looms, but for now, Mbappé remains at PSG, making an absolute ton of money. The highest-paid player on this list who does not play for a Saudi club, he turned down a truly staggering deal that would have changed that, by bringing him to the Saudi league for around 600 million Euros for just one season.
As things currently stand, he makes a salary of 72 million Euros from the French club, the highest number in Europe by a good margin, especially with Lionel Messi out of the European picture. The sky’s the limit for Mbappé, it will be truly fascinating to see where he goes next, what he accomplishes there as the young World Champion chases Ballons D’Or and UCLs, and of course, how much money he’s able to rake in.

4. Lionel Messi

While he may be the GOAT in the eyes of many after lifting the World Cup, this is the lowest Messi has been on this list in quite some time. He’s actually second on the Forbes list that came out in May, but of course things have changed a bit in just the few months since then. To his credit, this is not because the World has lost interest in the Argentine superstar, who recently broke the record for the most-liked post in the history of Instagram. He has simply chosen personal interests, and those of his family, rather than money, as he made the move to David Beckham’s MLS side Inter Miami after his PSG contract expired. This was his decision despite an offer from the Saudi league that reportedly would have netted him over 1.5 billion Euros over a 3-year contract.

Let’s get one thing straight- Messi is still making incredible money, even if his on-field salary is a bit smaller than it was in Paris. His salary in Miami is 54 million US Dollars, a hefty sum on its own. But like Ronaldo, he’s a brand all by himself- the Forbes list estimates his off-field earnings at around $65 million a year, a number that is unlikely to dip after moving to a huge US market, and of course winning a World Cup. His endorsements involve a lifetime deal with Adidas, of course, as well as brand partnerships with Gatorade, Pepsi, Mastercard, and even Huawei Technologies. Wherever he goes, and even when he stops playing, Lionel Messi is in absolutely no danger of stopping making money.

5. N’Golo Kante

While there have been grumblings every time a player has made a move to Saudi Arabia, nobody is anything other than happy for Kanté. The tiny midfielder has won absolutely everything for club and country, while playing exceptional football and being an exceptional person; he deserves this payday more than anyone. His inclusion on this list also makes Al-Ittihad the first club to be included twice, although they are not going to be the last.

Kanté joins fellow Frenchman Benzema on Al-Ittihad, creating an incredible midfield to forward link-up for the defending Saudi champs. His salary is also bundled in with an endorsement package, which includes image rights, commercial deals, and even an investment portfolio; the entire package is reported to be worth around 86 million GBP a year. At age 32, Kanté has accomplished everything he could have ever hoped to in Europe, and will enjoy a well-earned twilight of his career in an increasingly intriguing Saudi League.

6. Neymar Jr.

This one is another asterisk of sorts, because like Mbappé, Neymar could be on the move from Paris- he reportedly has asked to be sold, although there’s no real destination in mind. His salary is in the range of 40 million GBP, with off-field earnings totaling around 28 million. This is lower on the list than we’ve found him in recent years, but unless he gets in on the Saudi wave, he’s not likely to rise any higher with his next move. He’s tied for 12th on the Forbes list, amongst all athletes, not just footballers, so it’ll be interesting to see where he ends up after his next deal is signed, and all of the Saudi League contracts are better accounted for.

Neymar has always been very conscious about branding himself, and has built a nice endorsement portfolio centered around a huge deal with Nike, which made him the first footballer to partner with the Jordan Brand. Amazingly enough, his 222 million Euro 2017 transfer fee to PSG is still easily the most expensive of all time, even with the inflated market we’ve seen in years since. There’s no question that Neymar knows how to make his money, we’ll just have to wait and see where his next paychecks come from.

7. Erling Haaland

Now let’s get into the financial accomplishments of another superstar youngster, the Ronaldo to Mbappé’s Messi (or is it the other way around?) Erling Haaland. The 23 year old Norwegian is one of the fastest-rising stars in the World, as after just one year at Manchester City, he shattered Salah’s Premier League season goalscoring record, and brought Man City not just to their first-ever UCL title, but a historic Treble as well. His salary is basically the same as Salah’s, but now looks like quite the bargain.

Haaland doesn’t have quite the same off-field profile as Salah, as Forbes estimates his endorsement deals to total just under 6 million GBP per year. That’s a solid sum, driven by partnerships with brands like Nike and Samsung, but the number will surely rise as he keeps firing in goals and racking up team and individual trophies.

8. Mohamed Salah

Up next on the list is Liverpool’s Egyptian King, interestingly the first player to crack this list from the richest league in Europe, England’s Premier League. After negotiating a new deal with Liverpool, the best winger in Premier League history now earns nearly 20 million GBP a year from the Merseyside club.

As the biggest star from an entire region of the World, Salah’s hefty Liverpool wage is supplemented in a big way by endorsement deals, which total about half of what he makes from his salary alone. He’s partnered with Adidas, as are many footballers, but also has deals with Vodafone Egypt, and Uber. Always stylish but never flashy, Salah’s paychecks go to good use, with much of his income being sent back to restoration projects in his impoverished hometown of Nagrig, Egypt.

9. Kalidou Koulibaly

There’s a few deals in the Saudi League that are close to this one, such as those of Roberto Firmino and Riyad Mahrez on newly-promoted Al-Ahli, but Koulibaly is understood to have the highest commercial package attached to his contract, a package totaling around 30 million Euros per year. After just one year at Chelsea, the AFCON champ and Senegal captain is heading to Al-Hilal, who finished just a spot below qualifying for the AFC Champions League. He’ll be joined by fellow former European club players such as Rúben Neves from Wolves, Sergej Milinković-Savić of Lazio, and Zenit’s right winger, Malcolm.

10. Frenkie de Jong

Here’s another one that’s hard to tie down, but for slightly different reasons than the contracts given to players coming into Saudi Arabia. Barcelona has had an infamously ambiguous financial situation over the past few years, leading to the departure of Lionel Messi, among other things. Frenkie de Jong’s contract is far from an overpay- he’s one of the finest ball-possessing midfielders in the sport, if not the very best- but it’s one the club can ill afford, at nearly 20 million Euros per year.

There have been numerous reports at restructuring the deal to make it more palatable for the club, but we don’t really know what’s going on behind closed doors at the Camp Nou. The player himself has referred to reports as “lies” at times, such as last fall, casting an even greater shadow on the situation. de Jong is a Nike-endorsed player, but his commercial profile isn’t quite the same as some of the other players above him on this list, so his income largely comes from that Barça salary.

FAQ

Who is the highest-paid soccer player in the world?

In terms of total earnings, Cristiano Ronaldo is the highest-paid professional soccer player in the world with upwards of $280 million in the last year.

Who is the richest soccer player in the world?

The richest soccer player is actually 22-year-old midfielder and Prince of Brunei, Faiq Bolkiah, who has a net worth of $20 billion. Excluding royalty, however, CR7 takes the top spot once again with a net worth of $460 million, only $10 million ahead of retired England international David Beckham.

How do player salaries in the MLS compare to European player salaries?

MLS salaries on average are significantly lower than the salaries of the top players in European leagues. This is mostly due to the MLS’ salary cap of $4.24 million per team and $530,000 per player (besides three “designated players”). MLS also generates less revenue than the top European leagues.

How do transfers work in soccer?

Players often transfer from one team to another for a set price plus add-ons and bonuses. Before any deal is finalized, players must complete contract negotiations and undergo medical assessments. Other clubs can bid for a player at any point in time regardless of when the player’s contract ends.

How do contracts work in soccer?

Contracts can last for any length in time and be renegotiated at any point in time. Contracts will often have buyout or release clauses that state that the player can leave the club if a team bids above a certain price within a specific period of time.

What’s the most expensive transfer of all time?

Neymar Jr.’s transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017 is the most expensive transfer of all time at $263 million. The transfer fee world record has been broken five times in the 21st Century, once by PSG, once by Manchester United, and three times by Real Madrid.

What determines a soccer player’s salary?

Many factors go into determining a player’s salary, most significantly the economic resources of the player’s team and the revenue of the league. Other than that, though, teams will increase and decrease player salaries depending on a player’s quality, potential, time at the club, and importance to the team.

What soccer team pays players the most?

Barcelona is the highest-paid soccer team in the world, with Real Madrid and Juventus in second and third. Barcelona has an average first-team pay of $12.3 million per year, while Real Madrid’s average is $11.2 million. Thanks to CR7’s move to Juventus in 2018, Juventus take third with $10.1 million.

Win, lose, or tie, Chelsea 'til I die, keep the blue flag flying high. Born and raised in New York City and an avid viewer of the English Premier League. Besides playing and watching soccer, I love to bike and write songs.

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