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Top 10 Highest-Earning Footballers in 2019

In our continuing analysis of the world’s most valuable football clubs, we found ourselves wondering ithe salaries of players have anything to do with the value of their clubs.

So keep the green-eyed monster locked up, because here’s a list of the world’s top ten highest-earning footballers in 2019, extracted from Forbes’ list of the year’s highest-paid athletes.

The Top Three

According to Forbes, for the first time ever, the three highest-earning footballers of 2019 (Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Neymar) are also the top three highest-earning athletes in any sport. Despite the gains in recent years, the top three highest-earning footballers of 2019 are still some distance behind the all-time record set by David Beckham, who has amassed a fortune of around $800 million.

Lionel Messi

Messi is deservedly in the top spot with a reasonable scoring record (barring more prolific scorers from past eras), which we put at around 0.8 goals per appearance, and his accumulated salaries so far seem to reflect highly on his capability as a forward for Barcelona and the Argentinian national team.

Seen here, a few moments away from raising his goal-to-appearance ratio.

Interestingly, and perhaps due in part to the sum of salaries he has collected, Messi earns the least in endorsements out of the top three in this list. For every dollar he has collected in salaries, he is estimated to have received an additional 38 cents in endorsements as of December 2019—for contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo has accumulated the least in salaries of the top three, but he commands the highest amount in endorsements, amounting to about 68 cents for every dollar paid in salaries.

Cristiano Ronaldo

At least in this list, Ronaldo’s scoring record is second only to Messi’s, at around 0.72 goals per appearance throughout his career as a forward for the Portugese national team, for Manchester United, Real Madrid, and more recently, for Juventus.

Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t skip leg day, leg day skips him

Perhaps due in part to his popularity among even those with only a passing interest in the world’s most popular sport, Cristiano Ronaldo earns the highest in endorsements out of the top three. Paradoxically, the Sultan of the Stepover has accumulated the least in salaries among the top three, earning approximately 40% less per appearance than Messi and 55% less than Neymar.


The entry of Neymar into the highest income echelon of athletes helped to fill a vacuum created in the Forbes list with the third (and final?) retirement of undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2018. 

Despite having earned less in total than the top two footballers in this list, Neymar, who plays as a forward for France’s most successful club, Paris Saint-Germain, as well as for the Brazilian national team, earns approximately $260,000 (including endorsements) per appearancesignificantly more than Messi’s estimated total earnings per appearance of $190,000.

Every appearance the man makes clears out a warehouse full of cleats bearing his name.

It’s not just his earnings per appearance that could make Neymar the highest-paid footballer in this day and age, the fee paid to Barcelona for Neymar’s move to Les Rouge et Bleu in 2017 broke all previous records set during both Galáticos eras and still stands as the single most expensive transfer in the history of association football.

The Rest

The Forbes list of the highest-earning athletes includes names in boxing, tennis, golf, and other team sports around the world—we had to go all the way to #44 to begin seeing other names from the realm of association football, beginning with Paul Pogba. 

This raises the question of whether the top three are overpaid, or whether footballers in general, are underpaid.

While the rest of the Top Ten have some ground to cover, recent transfer fee records have been broken (in order of ascending transfer fees) by Oscar (in 2017), Pogba (in 2016), Antoine Griezmann (in 2019), and Mbappe, whose transfer fee in 2018 is still only second to the cost of Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Honourable Mentions

Two other names worth mentioning that didn’t make it into the top ten list are Gareth Bale, the Welsh midfielder for Real Madrid, and Mohamed Salah, the Egyptian forward for Liverpool. 

While their salaries put them just outside of this prestigious income bracket, the sum of their endorsements alone would put them within the top five highest-earning footballers with Mohamed Salah at number four, and Gareth Bale sharing the number five position alongside Mesut Ozil.


Stay tuned for a breakdown of the most underrated footballers.