Professional football is a lucrative business in 2022 and the 10 highest-paid players on the planet – who play for clubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool – are raking in huge sums both in wages and sponsorship deals.
Footballers’ salaries at the very top end of the game have risen exponentially in recent years, especially following the entrance onto the scene of huge multinationals, oligarchs and oil states as club owners.
Players have also benefitted from the popularity of the game to sign significant endorsement deals, which in a few cases can earn them almost as much as their salary.
Here, we look at the top 10 highest-earning football stars on the planet in 2022, with figures from Sportico’s Kurt Badenhausen*, an expert in professional sportspeople’s earnings. Note: in line with the Sportico figures, we use US Dollars as the currency.
10. Antoine Griezmann – $27.5m ($22m salary, $5.5m endorsements)
Griezmann is in a very odd situation at the moment.
A clause in the contract that Atletico signed to take him back from Barcelona on loan says that if he plays more than half the games for which he is available during the whole two-year loan spell, then Atletico are obliged to pay €40million to sign him permanently. That clause also defines playing a game as playing 45 minutes or more.
As such, Atletico are only deploying him for around half an hour plus stoppage time in their games this season and attempting to renegotiate the clause with Barca at the same time.
Pretty unfortunate for Griezmann, but he still pockets his $22million salary and will be fresh for France’s defence of their world title in Qatar, so we shouldn’t think he’s crying himself to sleep at night.
9. Kevin De Bruyne – $29m ($25.5m salary, $3.5m endorsements)
De Bruyne has almost certainly been the best player in the world’s most lucrative league over the last five seasons and plays for a club owned by the Abu Dhabi Royal Family, so it’d be weird if he wasn’t in this top 10.
8. Raheem Sterling – $29.4m ($21.4m salary, $8m endorsements)
While Sterling wasn’t earning as much as De Bruyne at Man City and still isn’t at his new club Chelsea, his marketability puts him above the Belgian here.
Sterling has big deals with New Balance for his boots and with Apple for all of his technological needs, while anyone who’s reading this in the UK will definitely have seen the England international standing in a neon green tunnel and encouraging them to have a shave in the half-time ad break at some point.
7. Andres Iniesta – $30m ($23m, $7m endorsements)
This one shocked us a bit. But the little man is big in Japan.
Former Barcelona star Iniesta has been playing for Vissel Jobe since 2018 and signed a new contract in 2021 that will keep him at the club until 2023. Given the salary on offer, it’s not that surprising he decided to stay.
Iniesta also has sponsorship deals with big-name Japanese brands like Nissan, Asics and Konami as well as GeneLife, which is, according to their website, a company that is “focused in providing you your personal genetic information allowing you to make better health and lifestyle choices for prevention of disease.”
Sounds a bit Black Mirror if you ask us.
Anyway, Iniesta’s immediate focus will not be on advertising this array of products but on keeping his team in the J1 League. At the time of writing, Vissel Kobe are one point clear of the relegation zone with five games to play.
6. Eden Hazard – $31.1m ($28.6m salary, $2.5m endorsements)
It really, really has not gone to plan for Hazard at Real Madrid. Since his £103million move to the Spanish capital, the Belgian has scored just seven goals in three and a bit seasons. Watching last season’s Champions League final from the bench must have been particularly galling.
Like they were with Gareth Bale, Madrid are stuck paying a huge salary to a player who doesn’t feature all that regularly. They can only blame themselves, though.
5. Mohamed Salah – $39.5m ($24.5m salary, $15m endorsements)
Salah’s status as one of the most clinical forwards on the planet finally translated itself into cold, hard cash when he signed a new, three-year, £350,000-a-week Liverpool contract in August 2022.
Owing to his megastar status in Egypt and the MENA region more generally, Salah also attracts very significant sponsorship deals with the likes of Adidas, Pepsi, Vodafone and Uber.
After a bit of a drop-off in form at the end of last season, his manager Jurgen Klopp predicted that the Egyptian king would be back firing on all cylinders in 2022-23. That hasn’t transpired yet, but we’re sure it’ll come, possibly after the break for the World Cup.
4. Neymar – $91m ($56m salary, $35m endorsements)
Now we’re into the real big leagues – the four players whose earnings set them miles apart from the rest of football and put them among the richest athletes in the world in any sport.
Neymar is first up and is on the third-highest salary in world football – which also happens to be the third-highest salary at his club PSG.
Like so many footballers, the Brazilian has dived head-first into the incomprehensible whirlpool of NFTs and crypto, releasing a ‘digital collection’ with NFTSTAR, whoever the hell they are.
He also splashed over $1million worth of crypto on two Bored Ape NFTs in one day in January 2022. That’s a lot of crypto.
3. Lionel Messi – $110m ($62m salary, $48m endorsements)
He’s topped the list of highest-paid players at times, but Messi has now dropped down to third.
Still, with endorsement deals for watches, fizzy pop, telecoms, sportswear, sports drinks, beer, video games, an oil state and crisps – and this being a World Cup Year to boot – we shouldn’t think he’ll be down the Job Centre anytime soon.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo – $113m ($53m salary, $60m endorsements)
Ronaldo has more Instagram followers than any other sportsperson, celebrity or artist on the planet – 481million, to be precise.
That means he can peddle anti-dandruff shampoo (and some other stuff) to people all over the globe, making him the footballer who earns the most in sponsorship deals, if not the most overall anymore.
Is he now more celebrity than footballer, though? His one start in Manchester United’s six Premier League games so far this season would suggest he’s going that way.
1. Kylian Mbappe – $125m ($105m, $20m endorsements)
For the first time in over a decade, Messi and Ronaldo have been knocked off the top spot of the highest-earning football earners – and it is French boy-wonder and Messi’s PSG team-mate Mbappe who has done the knocking.
Mbappe recently revealed to the New York Times that French President Emmanuel Macron personally got on the blower to convince him not to leave PSG for Real Madrid this summer.
Mbappe said: “He told me: ‘I don’t want you to leave now. You are so important for the country.’ Of course, when the president says that to you, that counts.”
We imagine the fact that PSG whacked a $105million-a-year contract on the table also counted.