Football's highest earners
It’s no secret that the world’s best footballers are handsomely remunerated for their work, but just how much do the top players pocket?
France Football have produced the 2018 version of their annual list ranking the 20 highest-earners based on wages, bonuses and commercial income. Who makes the cut?
20. Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich (£18.2m)
In many people’s eyes Neuer has lost his status as the world’s best net-minder to David de Gea in the last couple of years, with a foot injury which has kept the German out of action since September doing him no favours in the global goalkeeping debate.
The Bayern Munich custodian can console himself with the fact he’s among the top 20 best-paid footballers on the planet. The 32-year-old takes home £18.2m a year, which is enough for a place on this list.
19. Paul Pogba, Manchester United (£19.2m)
Pogba spent a year as the world’s most expensive ever player between August 2016 and August 2017, when Neymar joined Paris Saint-Germain for £198m – a startling £109m more than Manchester United had paid for the Frenchman 12 months previously.
Pogba’s fee has also been overtaken by Kylian Mbappe, Ousmane Dembele and Philippe Coutinho, leaving the ex-Juventus man in fifth place. In terms of individual earnings, his £19.2m is only enough for 19th in the world.
18. Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich (£19.4m)
Lewandowski has been continually linked with Real Madrid in recent years, but this summer could be the moment when the Poland international finally moves to the Santiago Bernabeu.
Representing another illustrious club is presumably the striker’s primary motivation, but Lewandowski – who turns 30 this August – may also be tempted by the higher wages that are likely to be on offer in the Spanish capital. He could, then, rank higher on this list in 2019.
17. Oscar, Shanghai SIPG (£19.4m)
Eyebrows were raised when Oscar opted to swap Chelsea for Shanghai SIPG in 2017, largely because most of the players who had previously moved to the Chinese Super League were – unlike the Brazilian – approaching the end of their careers.
Oscar is still only 26 and probably hasn’t given up hope of participating in the Champions League again in the future, although his income will likely fall from its present £19.4m if he does return to the European game.
16. Edinson Cavani, PSG (£19.7m)
Cavani had grown accustomed to playing second fiddle to Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Paris Saint-Germain, but he finally became the club’s main man when the Swede joined Manchester United in 2016 – until the record-smashing signing of Neymar cast Cavani into a supporting role at the Parc des Princes once more.
At least the Uruguayan is well paid for his troubles: the striker takes home just short of £20m according to France Football’s calculations.
15. Thomas Muller, Bayern Munich (£20.1m)
The upper echelons of this list are dominated by players plying their trade in Spain, with 15th-placed Muller the highest-ranked Bundesliga starlet.
The Germany international, who will be looking to win the World Cup for the second time this summer, is reportedly paid less by Bayern than Robert Lewandowski, but Muller edges out his team-mate due to various off-field endorsements.
13= Karim Benzema, Real Madrid (£20.6m)
Benzema has his fair share of critics and his nine-year stay at Real Madrid could come to an end this summer, while he will also play no part at the upcoming World Cup having been exiled from the France squad since 2016.
Despite all that, the 30-year-old striker remains one of the highest-paid players in world football. Benzema has been linked with a move to China at the end of the campaign, which would do little harm to his pay packet.
13= Alexis Sanchez, Manchester United (£20.6m)
Along with club colleague Paul Pogba, Sanchez is one of just two Premier League players on the list. The Chile international swapped Arsenal for Manchester United in the January transfer window, a move which has done his earning potential no harm whatsoever.
As well as a desire to challenge for the game’s major prizes, Sanchez’s switch was supposedly motivated by his age: now he's 29 years old, the contract he signed earlier this year may be the last before his salary begins to fall.
12. Ezequiel Lavezzi, Hebei China Fortune (£22.1m)
Lavezzi has been plying his trade in the Chinese Super League for over two years now, and he remains one of the best paid footballers on the planet. The Argentine forward’s international prospects may have taken a hit in the Far East, but his earning potential certainly hasn’t.
With around £22.1m paid into his bank account every year, Lavezzi is the highest earner in Asia and second in the list of those playing their football outside Europe.
11. Andres Iniesta, Barcelona (£22.3m)
Iniesta’s long association with Barcelona is coming to an end, as the World Cup winner prepares to swap the Camp Nou for the Chinese Super League. The extent to which that transfer will boost the midfielder’s position on this list isn’t yet clear, but he’s certainly unlikely to fall too far below 11th spot in 2019.
At present, Iniesta’s earnings are calculated at £22.3m, a figure which includes income from sponsorship deals with brands such as Nike, Sony and Nissan.
9= Luis Suarez, Barcelona (£22.7m)
Suarez makes it into the top 10 with an annual income just short of £23m. The Barcelona striker receives around £15m from his employers in Catalonia, but his earnings are topped up by a range of sponsorship arrangements with brands such as Adidas, Pepsi and Samsung.
More curiously, Suarez has recently begun promoting Malaysia as a tourist destination. There’s a (small) chance he isn’t getting paid for such tweets, though; perhaps he just really loves Southeast Asia.
9= Antoine Griezmann, Atletico Madrid (£22.7m)
Griezmann will hope to be higher in this ranking in 2019, primarily because he seems to be keen on a transfer away from Atletico Madrid this summer.
A strong showing at the World Cup would no doubt help the Frenchman’s cause, while it might also boost his earning potential away from the pitch. Puma and Huawei are among the sponsors Griezmann will be looking to add to in the coming months.
8. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy (£23.4m)
Ibrahimovic may be winding down his career as his 37th birthday approaches, but he’s still among the highest-paid footballers in the world. Manchester United agreed to let the Swede out of his contract at Old Trafford to join LA Galaxy earlier this year, where Ibrahimovic made an instant impact by scoring twice on his debut.
Although the striker took a significant pay cut in swapping the Premier League for MLS, he remains a highly marketable asset away from the pitch.
7. Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid (£24.1m)
The Real Madrid captain's absence in the second leg of his side's Champions League quarter-final with Juventus – a 3-1 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu – showed how crucial he is to the cause. Three of his team-mates may pocket more money – go on, guess who? – on a yearly basis than the Spaniard, but Ramos still ranks seventh in the world when it comes to earnings.
A lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike tops up the centre-back's Madrid salary, which is thought to be worth around £10.5m – making Ramos one of the highest-paid defenders in world football.
6. Toni Kroos, Real Madrid (£24.7m)
Kroos’ understated on-field style means he’s rarely a genuine contender for the individual awards, while his musical taste – Robbie Williams and Olly Murs are among his favourite artists – harms his street cred away from the pitch.
The Real Madrid man is one of the best midfielders in the game, however, which is why he’s paid almost £35m a year – more than all but five of his fellow professionals.
5. Gerard Pique, Barcelona (£25.4m)
Andres Iniesta's imminent exit to the Chinese Super League means Pique - along with Sergio Busquets - will soon become Barcelona's joint-second longest-serving player.
The 31-year-old, who rejoined the Blaugrana in 2008 after a spell at Manchester United, is on the verge of winning his seventh league title at the Camp Nou, and he remains a key figure almost a decade on from his maiden senior appearance. His importance is underlined by his pay packet, with Pique remunerated to the tune of £25.4m in the last 12 months.
4. Gareth Bale, Real Madrid (£38.5m)
Many expected Bale to be the heir to Cristiano Ronaldo when he joined Real Madrid in 2013, but the Portuguese looks set to outlast the Welshman at the Santiago Bernabeu, with Bale being heavily linked with a move away this summer.
It’s unclear whether prospective future employers would be able to match Bale’s Madrid pay packet, but for now the ex-Tottenham forward is one of the world’s four highest-paid players.
3. Neymar, PSG (£71.3m)
Neymar became the most expensive footballer of all time when Paris Saint-Germain splashed out around £200m on his signature in summer 2017, but the Brazilian’s individual earnings are only enough for third spot here.
Just as the 26-year-old has time on his side to win the Ballon d’Or, though, he is also likely to top future editions of this list.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid (£82.2m)
Ronaldo may now be 33 years of age, but he’s still banging in the goals for Real Madrid – and he’s still bringing in the big bucks, too.
The Portuguese striker is paid £82.2m a year, which places him comfortably above third-placed Neymar in France Football’s ranking. With Nike, KFC and, er, Abbott Laboratories among his brand endorsements, Ronaldo earns plenty outside of his lucrative Madrid contract.
1. Lionel Messi, Barcelona (£110.2m)
Messi may have lost out to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2017 Ballon d’Or vote, but the Barcelona forward still leads the way when it comes to earnings.
The Argentina international is the only player to earn more than £100m a year thanks to his wages at the Camp Nou and various sponsorship deals. Messi will turn 31 in June, but he’s unlikely to lose top spot in this ranking any time soon.
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).