Soccer may not be the most popular sport in the United States, but it is continuing to grow stateside. While the US has been slow to adopt the game, the sport is easily the most popular worldwide. Billions of dollars are bet on soccer matches around the world every year.
While athletes like LeBron James, Tiger Woods, and Patrick Mahomes may dominate TV screens all over the US, it’s soccer players that are treated like royalty elsewhere. Forbes’ annual list of the highest-paid athletes routinely features several soccer superstars, and a few have even risen into the No. 1 spot over the years.
Pennsylvania native Christian Pulisic is starting to make a name for himself in the Premier League, while several other American youngsters have latched on with some of Europe’s most prestigious clubs over the past few years.
Earlier this week, Mahomes signed a 10-year extension with the Kansas City Chiefs that could eventually pay out $500 million in salary. That puts him at the top of the list for highest-paid NFL players. It is a record for an American but how does he stack up against some of the world’s top soccer stars?
The following are the six highest-paid soccer players in the world for 2020.
6. Alexis Sanchez ($30.8 Million)
Alexis Sanchez was once one of the top attacking midfielders in the world. While the Chilean’s star has faded a bit over the past couple of seasons, he still ranks among the most well-compensated players on earth. Sanchez will earn nearly $31 million for the 2019-20 season.
In fact, most of that money isn’t coming from the team he’s actually playing for.
Manchester United sent midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan to Arsenal in exchange for Sanchez in January of 2018. The move was expected to help the Red Devils get back to their perch atop the Premier League. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out. Alexis has contributed just four goals in a United shirt, and in August of last year he was loaned to Inter Milan.
United would like to sell Sanchez, but there aren’t many clubs out there that are overly keen to play the hefty asking price. For now, Manchester United are essentially stuck with Alexis and his massive salary.
5. Andres Iniesta ($32.5 Million)
Andres Iniesta is well past his prime, but he’s still cashing those checks. The veteran is one of the most prolific Spanish soccer players in history, and he has spent the vast majority of his career winning trophy after trophy with Barcelona. Iniesta wound up making 442 appearances for the side between 2002 and 2018.
Iniesta led Spain to a World Cup title in 2010, and he won the UEFA European championships with his home nation in 2008 and 2012.
Barca won nine La Liga titles with Iniesta in the fold as well as four Champions League trophies. His resume speaks for itself.
In 2018, though, he announced that he would be leaving his longtime club. Later that year, he signed a three-year deal with Vissel Kobe, a club in Japan. Japan doesn’t often attract star players, which explains why the club are willing to pay him $30 million in salary. Iniesta also earns another $2.5 million a year in endorsements.
4. Paul Pogba ($33 Million)
Paul Pogba has been one of the best young players in Europe for years. Still only 26, the Frenchman has a number of accolades to his name already. He helped France win the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and he won Serie A titles in all four seasons he spent in Italy with Juventus between 2012 and 2016.
In 2016, Pogba became the most expensive player in the world when he went back to his original club, Manchester United.
United spent well over $100 million to bring Pogba back to Old Trafford, which was a new record at the time. It is still the most money an English club has ever spent on a player. Unfortunately, as was the case with Alexis, trophies have eluded Pogba since returning to England.
United won the EFL Cup and the Europa League in Pogba’s first year back, but the club hasn’t won anything since. He endured an acrimonious relationship with ex-manager Jose Mourinho, but things seem to be taking a turn for the better under manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Pogba has scored 24 goals in 103 appearances since returning to United, where he earns $29 million a year in salary. He earns another $4 million a year in endorsements.
3. Neymar ($105 Million)
As you can see, there is quite the large gap between the fourth-highest paid player and the third-highest paid player. Like Pogba, Neymar has been everybody’s radar for quite some time. Despite still being just 28, the Brazilian has quite the resume already.
Neymar became a star alongside Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez at Barcelona, but he reportedly grew weary of being overshadowed by Barca’s bigger stars. So, in 2017, he pushed his way out. Paris St. Germain came calling. The French giants splurged a whopping €222 million for Neymar in August of 2017, which is still the highest fee any club has ever paid for a single player.
Neymar has helped PSG return to the top of the table in France, but the club are still in search of European glory. Paris are routinely among the biggest spenders in the world, but the side has still yet to win a Champions League. Neymar has scored 61 goals in 101 appearances for Brazil since his international debut at the age of 18, and he led the side to a gold medal at the 2016 Olympics in his home country.
PSG pays Neymar $75 million in salary, which is a significantly higher amount than any American athlete earns as of now. He signed an 11-year endorsement deal with Nike back in 2011, and he has other sponsorship pacts with the likes of MasterCard, EA Sports, and Red Bull. In all, Neymar earns an extra $30 million in endorsement money every year.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo ($109 Million)
Earlier this year, Cristiano Ronaldo became the first player to ever score at least 25 goals in a season across three of Europe’s top leagues. He has now accomplished the feat in England, Spain, and Italy. Ronaldo, who is arguably the most famous athlete on the planet, inked a four-year contract with Juventus in the summer of 2018 after spending the previous 10 years of his career winning every trophy under the sun with Real Madrid.
Juve paid $117 million for the goal-scorer in ’18. The Italian giants pay Ronaldo $65 million in salary on an annual basis. He is also one of just three athletes in the world with a lifetime endorsement deal with Nike.
The others, of course, are Michael Jordan and LeBron James. In all, Ronaldo earns $44 million every year via a bevy of sponsorship deals.
Ronaldo has won the Ballon d’Or – essentially world soccer’s Player of the Year award – five times, most recently in 2017. He led Portugal to the country’s first international trophy with an unexpected victory at the 2016 Euros. Ronaldo led Juve to a Serie A title in 2018-19. While Real won just two La Liga titles during his tenure, Los Blancos did win Champions League four times with Ronaldo leading the way. The Portuguese superstar also helped Manchester United to three Premier League trophies and a Champions League win in 2007-08.
1. Lionel Messi ($127 Million)
If Ronaldo was No. 2, who else did you expect to be No. 1? Lionel Messi has had a longtime rivalry with Ronaldo, though the intensity seems to have abated since Cristiano’s aforementioned move to Italy a couple of years ago.
If Ronaldo isn’t the best player in the world, then Messi is. Messi scored his 700th career goal earlier this year, and he’s another player that has won just about everything you can possibly win. While neither Ronaldo nor Messi has a World Cup trophy, both have still enjoyed stellar international careers. In addition to his 441 goals for Barcelona, Messi has scored another 70 with Argentian.
Messi has been sponsored by Adidas since 2006, and he was the highest-paid soccer player in the world five times in a six-year stretch between 2009 and 2014.
His reach extends beyond the game, as well, as he was ranked by Time Magazine among the 100 most influential people in the world in 2011 and 2012.
While Messi’s time at Camp Nou could soon be coming to an end, it’s safe to assume he’ll keep putting up big numbers wherever he winds up. Messi won his sixth Ballon d’Or in 2019, which puts him one clear of Ronaldo for the most in history. Barcelona have won La Liga 10 times with Messi on the roster, in addition to six Copa Del Rey trophies, eight Supercopa de Espana wins, and four Champions League victories.
Barcelona pays Messi $92 million a a year in salary and bonuses. In addition to his lifetime deal with Adidas, the Argentine also has sponsorships with Gatorade and Pepsi that pay him another $35 million annually. Messi’s total net worth is believed to be in excess of $400 million, making him one of the richest athletes of all-time.