The top of the soccer world has been dominated on and off the field for 15 years by a pair of global icons in Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Together, they have racked up 12 player-of-the-year awards, while their respective clubs dueled for league and European titles. It has been lucrative work for the two stars, who have both banked more than $1 billion in salary and endorsements during their long careers.
But with Ronaldo, 37, and Messi, 35, on the backside of their playing days, a new idol has emerged to capture the attention of the world’s most popular sport, and he is now getting paid like it. Kylian Mbappé is the game’s highest-paid soccer player after signing a blockbuster contract extension this summer that should net him at least $125 million from salary and sponsors during the 2022-23 season.
“They changed the way people approach the game,” Mbappé told The Wall Street Journal in a profile published last week in reference to Ronaldo and Messi. “I think that’s why their rivalry obsessed so many people. They don’t see soccer the same way. They don’t see life the same way. And they went at it tooth and nail for more than a decade—for me, that was my entire childhood.”
In 2017, Paris Saint-Germain bet on the then-18-year-old forward with a massive €180 million ($215 million) transfer fee to secure his rights from Monaco. His profile soared the following year when he helped France win the World Cup and became just the second teenager, after Pelé, to score in a World Cup final. He has been the top goal scorer in France’s Ligue 1 the past four seasons, and after flirting with a move to Real Madrid for nearly a year, Mbappé re-signed with PSG through 2025 in May.
Mbappé’s potential PSG departure hit the highest reaches of the nation, with French President Emmanuel Macron intervening. "He told me: I don't want you to leave now. You are so important for the country,” Mbappe said to The New York Times. “Of course, when the president says that to you, that counts."
The details of Mbappé’s three-year deal have not been revealed, which is how most European soccer contracts work, but he should pocket at least $105 million before taxes this season, including a share of his signing bonus, according to multiple sources in the soccer world.
In addition to his PSG earnings, Sportico estimates Mbappé will earn $20 million this season from his sponsors, which include Nike, Mengniu, Hublot, Electronic Arts, Christian Dior and Oakley. The latest addition to his endorsement stable is Sorare—he will be an investor in and ambassador for the NFT fantasy sports platform.
Like fellow global megastars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, Mbappé launched his own production company. In June, he signed with WME Sports and started Zebra Valley to make scripted, non-scripted and animated content. Zebra’s focus is on sports, music, art, technology and gaming. Shortly after the launch, the avid basketball fan signed a multiyear content creation deal with the NBA for Zebra.
Ronaldo ($113 million), Messi ($110 million) and Neymar ($91 million) fall in behind Mbappé within the top 10 earners. Neymar’s playing salary is the third highest in the world, and incredibly just the third highest on his own PSG team.
Ronaldo has largely been a role player so far this season for Manchester United, with just one start through six matches. Yet his off-field earnings are still tops in the game, fueled in part by the exposure he gives brands through his social media accounts, which include 475 million followers on Instagram, more than any other celebrity on the planet.
Nike is Ronaldo’s most valuable endorsement partner, and others include Herbalife, Livescore, Altice, Talabat, Therabody and eCampus. In June, cryptocurrency exchange Binance announced a multiyear agreement with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner to create a series of NFT collections for sale on the platform.
The 10 highest-paid soccer players will earn an estimated $625 million this year before taxes, with 33% of the total from endorsements. They hail from eight different clubs and were born in eight different countries. The salary numbers at the top of the table are eye-popping, but there is a huge drop-off after the first four players. The big four are the only players expected to make $30 million in salary. Compare that to the NBA, where more than 40 players should hit the mark next season.
Estimates were compiled through conversations with agents, clubs and marketing experts in the U.S. and Europe and are pre-tax projections for the 2022-23 season. The current values of the Euro and British Pound are both off more than 10% from the average of last season. The result is lower salaries and endorsement estimates when shown in U.S. dollars.
The Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2022-23
1. Kylian Mbappé (Paris Saint-Germain): $125 million
Salary/bonus: $105 million; Endorsements: $20 million; Age: 23
Mbappé had an added layer of leverage in his contract negotiations since his contract had expired, and it would have been a free transfer to move to Real Madrid. The Spanish club offered PSG a $200 million transfer fee for the Frenchman in 2021.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United): $113 million
Salary/bonus: $53 million; Endorsements: $60 million; Age: 37
In addition to his endorsements, Ronaldo’s CR7 brand is used on eyewear, footwear, fragrances, underwear, hotels and gyms. He holds the records for most appearances (187), goals (141) and assists (42) in Champions League play.
3. Lionel Messi (Paris Saint-Germain): $110 million
Salary/bonus: $62 million; Endorsements: $48 million; Age: 35
Only Ronaldo and Kylie Jenner have more Instagram followers than Messi. He added an eight-figure deal with Socios to his sponsor portfolio, which also includes Adidas, Budweiser, Mastercard, PepsiCo and at least 10 others.
4. Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain): $91 million
Salary/bonus: $56 million; Endorsements: $35 million; Age: 30
The Brazilian striker has more than a dozen endorsement deals, highlighted by his $10 million-a-year pact with Puma, and is looking to focus more on equity-based agreements during his 30s.
5. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool): $39.5 million
Salary/bonus: $24.5 million; Endorsements: $15 million; Age: 30
Last season, Salah won his third Golden Boot, awarded annually to the Premier League’s leading goal scorer. Liverpool re-signed the Egyptian forward in a deal worth £350,000 ($413,000) weekly, plus incentives.
6. Eden Hazard (Real Madrid): $31.1 million
Salary/bonus: $28.6 million; Endorsements: $2.5 million; Age: 31
It has been a disappointing run for the Belgium national team captain since he joined Real Madrid from Chelsea in 2019 on a €150 million transfer fee. In May, Madrid won Champions League, but Hazard never saw the field.
7. Andrés Iniesta (Vissel Kobe): $30 million
Salary/bonus: $23 million; Endorsements: $7 million; Age: 38
Iniesta shocked the soccer world when he left Barcelona in 2018 for J1 League club Vissel Kobe and later signed a two-year contract extension. He’s been in demand from sponsors while playing in Japan with more than 10 active deals.
8. Raheem Sterling (Chelsea): $29.4 million
Salary/bonus: $21.4 million; Endorsements: $8 million; Age: 27
Sterling signed a contract extension with Chelsea in July. The new agreement is worth £325,000 ($384,000) per week. He joined Puma’s athlete roster in 2021, after playing his entire career in Nikes.
9. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City): $29 million
Salary/bonus: $25.5 million; Endorsements: $3.5 million; Age: 31
The midfielder has been a key cog in helping Man City win four Premier League titles since he joined the club in 2015. De Bruyne was one of the first soccer players to join Roc Nation Sports. His partners include Nike, Wow Hydrate, Credit Karma, Veo, Secret Lab and Therabody.
10. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid): $27.5 million
Salary/bonus: $22 million; Endorsements: $5.5 million; Age: 31
Griezmann joined Atlético from Barcelona in 2021 under a two-year loan agreement. The two clubs are now in a dispute over a clause in the contract where Atlético would be required to pay Barca €40 million, based on his playing time last season.