Lionel Messi and Argentina captured the FIFA World Cup in dramatic fashion on Sunday, filling the only remaining hole in the global icon’s career resume. The game captured the attention of the world on TV and online.
“Search recorded its highest ever traffic in 25 years during the final of #FIFAWorldCup, it was like the entire world was searching about one thing,” Sundar Pichai, Alphabet and Google CEO, tweeted late Sunday night.
Messi’s social media presence also hit a pair of major milestones after the landmark win. On Monday, he became only the second person on the planet with 400 million+ Instagram followers, joining longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who has 518 million followers. Messi added five million followers on Sunday, and 20 million over the past 30 days, according to Social Blade, a social media analytics platform. His biggest month of new follower additions was 20 million in August 2021 when he joined Paris Saint-Germain after 18 seasons in Barcelona. He will top that threshold this month.
Shortly after the game was decided by penalty kicks, Messi posted a celebratory photo of him holding the solid gold World Cup trophy above his head. “WORLD CHAMPIONS!!!!!!!,” Messi wrote in Spanish.
The post broke the all-time record for likes on an Instagram post, which was previously 56 million on a 2019 post of an egg. It was liked by 48 million people in the first 20 hours, passing the post with the second-most likes, which was a photo of Ronaldo and Messi in a Louis Vuitton ad last month of the duo playing chess. Ronaldo’s post of the image was liked 42 million times, while the same image from Messi had 32 million likes, fifth-most all time for the platform.
The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner and two-time World Cup Golden Ball recipient ranked second in Sportico’s list of the world’s highest-paid athletes list this year with $122 million; LeBron James was first at $127 million. Messi has a deep roster of sponsors, including Adidas, Budweiser, Mastercard, PepsiCo, Socios and at least 10 more. Sponsors pay Messi more than $50 million a year to align themselves with the superstar, and part of the allure is the massive following he has on social media. In addition to his Instagram fans, Messi has 110 million followers on Facebook. He does not have a Twitter account.
Messi has driven two billion interactions on Instagram so far this year and 35% of them have been since the start of November, according to sponsorship analytics platform Hookit, which was recently acquired by KORE Software. Sponsors have received $59 million in “adjusted ad value” from Messi’s social posts, according to Hookit’s algorithm.
Messi has earned more than $1.2 billion during his career from salaries, bonuses and endorsements, and his legacy as the world’s greatest soccer player will keep him as a popular pitchman when he does hang up his cleats for good, thanks in part to those 400 million followers.
(This story was updated when Messi’s Instagram post became the most-liked post ever on Instagram.)