The World’s Highest-Paid Soccer Players 2023
Find out who tops the list of the world's highest-paid soccer players in 2023 as we unveil the earnings, endorsements, and lifestyles of the footballing elite. Stay updated with the latest financial insights in the world of soccer on Sports Connect.
The top 11 highest-paid soccer players for 2023 are as follows:
Cristiano Ronaldo - $260 million
Lionel Messi - $135 million
Neymar Jr. - $112 million
Kylian Mbappé - $110 million
Karim Benzema - $106 million
Erling Haaland - $58 million
Mohamed Salah - $53 million
Sadio Mané - $52 million
Kevin De Bruyne - $39 million
Harry Kane - $36 million
Robert Lewandowski - $34 million
In 2023, the highest-paid soccer players in the world are making headlines with eye-popping earnings. Neymar, a Brazilian star, was enticed to leave France's Ligue 1 and join Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal with a lavish package. He received a mansion, luxury cars, a private jet, performance bonuses, and even permission to live with his girlfriend, despite Islamic law restrictions. These perks are in addition to his anticipated $80 million in on-field compensation, making his total earnings around $112 million for the season.
Al Hilal, now under the control of Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund, is one of the clubs making waves in the soccer world. The Saudis aim to shake up global soccer by attracting top talent with significant financial investments. During the 2023 summer transfer window, Saudi Pro League clubs spent nearly $1 billion to acquire 94 overseas players. These offers are incredibly remarkable as they aim to convince players to leave their European clubs. To illustrate, a staggering $1.1 billion package was presented to persuade Kylian Mbappé, and there were speculations about a three-year deal worth $1.6 billion to entice Lionel Messi.
The top 11 highest-paid soccer players globally are expected to collectively earn $995 million this season before taxes and agent fees, with five of them surpassing nine figures. This represents a remarkable 53% increase from the previous year's list, which saw ten players earning a record $652 million combined. Notably, Saudi Pro League players occupy four spots on the list, contributing significantly to the total earnings due to their lucrative on-field contracts.
Cristiano Ronaldo, who was the highest-paid player in 2021, claims the top spot in 2023 with projected earnings of $260 million. His move to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia after leaving Manchester United triggered a wave of players relocating to the Kingdom. Ronaldo's deal is believed to encompass both playing wages and financial incentives from commercial agreements facilitated by the club. He also maintains a substantial endorsement portfolio, earning an estimated $60 million annually, featuring brands like Nike and Jacob & Co.
The opacity of Saudi Arabian business dealings has led to speculation about the accuracy of reported salaries, which may be inflated to manage reputational damage tied to playing in a country with a controversial human rights record. However, these astronomical figures might also serve to attract players to compete in Saudi Arabia. While occasional contract details emerge, some of the reported figures are likely educated guesses from intermediaries with limited involvement in the deals.
As the Saudi Pro League seeks a more sustainable economic model, it faces challenges seen in China's Super League. China invested over $1 billion in transfers between 2016 and 2017, but the league faced difficulties, including a faltering economy, diminishing sponsorships, and player departures due to strict COVID-19 policies. In contrast, the Saudi Pro League has its own share of issues, including disputes between players and clubs and concerns about payment reliability, leading to warnings from FIFPro, the international players' union.
For now, Saudi Arabia's deep financial resources allow them to write checks with significant numbers, while Financial Fair Play regulations in Europe limit clubs from overspending. However, many of the Saudi transfers involve aging players, raising questions about the league's long-term appeal. Creative strategies, like luring aging stars from leading European clubs, may be necessary to sustain interest.
Lionel Messi, a 36-year-old Argentinian, made a move to Major League Soccer (MLS) with Inter Miami, where his agreement includes a share of revenue from league partners Adidas and Apple TV. Alongside his annual off-field earnings of $70 million, boosted by Argentina's 2022 World Cup win and his move to the United States, Messi ranks second on the list with projected total earnings of $135 million. This represents the initial inclusion of an MLS player in the top ten list since David Beckham in 2012, owing to MLS' policy permitting three "designated players" with salaries that surpass the league's budget limitations.
It's worth noting that Messi and his peers relocating to Saudi Arabia, such as Karim Benzema and Sadio Mané, are not the exclusive recipients of substantial contracts. Kylian Mbappé, even though he slipped from the top position last year, remains the highest-earning among all European-based players, with an estimated income of $120 million. Additionally, the list includes three Premier League players: Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne from Manchester City, along with Mohamed Salah from Liverpool. Meanwhile, Harry Kane, now with Bayern Munich, and Robert Lewandowski of Barcelona complete the top 11 with projected total earnings of $36 million and $34 million, respectively.