Top-tier footballers are often paid ridiculous amounts of money each year. Sometimes it’s even when they are sitting on the bench, doing absolutely nothing for their club. But how do the wages compare to the amounts paid out 10 years ago?

Back in 2010, we looked at the wages of some of the best footballers worldwide. It was the build-up to the World Cup, and players were signing new contracts, endorsement deals and receiving eyewatering amounts of money.

At the time, the top wages were dominated by the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, with only four Premier League players making the top ten. They were Carlos Tevez (£13.8 million) for Manchester City. Frank Lampard (£12.8 million) for Chelsea. John Terry (£10 million) for Chelsea and Steven Gerrard (£9 million) for Liverpool. Of course, these weren’t just salaries, the figures also included endorsements such as boot deals.

Messi led the way with a staggering £29.6 million, and Ronaldo was just behind on £27 million. The two players were at the peak of their game at this point, but are they still the highest-paid footballers in the world?

Even if they are the best players in the world, is it fair that they get so much when so many of the smaller clubs struggle to break even on a weekly basis?

2020 Top Earners In Football

If the money being out to footballers in 2010 was eyewatering, it is a drop in the ocean compared to the wages on offer in 2020. Unsurprisingly, Ronaldo and Messi are still the top earners, but both are on far more money now than they were 10 years ago.

Lionel Messi is the runaway leader in 2020, earning a huge $127 million per year in wages and endorsements. As his Instagram posts show, he has a deal with Pepsi, who currently have Mo Salah, Raheem Sterling and Paul Pogba on their books as well. On top of this, Lionel Messi also has a lifelong deal with Adidas.

Deals like this put Messi as the highest-earning athlete in the world, not just a footballer.

In second place again is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese forward earnt $109 million last year, with $44 million of it coming from endorsements. No other footballer earned as much from sponsorship as the Juventus player. He is currently sponsored by Nike as well as Herbalife and EA Sports.

Neymar takes the third spot in what seems more like a Balon d’Or list than a top earners list. In 2019 he earnt $105 million, $75 million of which was from PSG. The French club are owned by The State Of Qatar. Since they took over in 2011 they have signed the two most expensive players in history, Neymar for €222 million and Mbappe for a reported €180 million.

In fourth place is Gareth Bale, with a reported $34.6 million. In 2013, Bale made history when Real Madrid broke the world transfer record by signing the Tottenham forward. The Wales star agreed a £300,000 per week, six-year deal after sealing an £85.3m (100m euros) move. That eclipsed the £80m Real Madrid paid Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.

Finally, in fifth place among the highest-paid footballers in the world is Premier League player Paul Pogba, playing for Manchester United, earned $29.5million with $25 million of it coming from his wages.

Are. Players Worth their Wages?

When comparing this too 10 years ago, it makes for astonishing reading. Football wages and earnings have accelerated at a ridiculous rate, and it doesn’t look like slowing down any time soon! But for all the money these footballers are paid, do the clubs recuperate the costs?



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In 2018 Manchester United sold 2,850,000 club jerseys. Pogba’s name graced more Utd jerseys than anyone else that year, putting him third in the world for shirt sales.

He was eclipsed by Ronaldo in second place, who, combined with Gareth Bale, sold 2.29m shirts worldwide for Real Madrid at the time. And, proving it’s all about the player and not the club when Cristiano Ronaldo joined Juventus, the team sold $60 million worth of his jerseys in 24 hours.

And topping the list for shirt sales is Lionel Messi. His name is on the back of more club and country jerseys than any other footballer in the world. When he launched his own official store online in April 2019, it took only three days to surpass the total monthly sales of the official Real Madrid and Manchester City online stores in China.

It’s essential to remember that soccer is not only a sport but also a business that revolves around supply and demand, media rights, sponsorship, merchandise, ticket sales, and other revenue streams. Here are some of the key factors that contribute to the high salaries of football players:

  1. Talent and scarcity: There’s a high demand for top-level players, but they are in short supply. Each player has unique skills and abilities, and the better they are, the more they’re worth. This principle of supply and demand applies to all markets, and football is no exception.
  2. Revenue generation: Soccer clubs generate enormous revenue, particularly the most prominent ones. This revenue comes from multiple streams, including broadcasting rights, sponsorships, merchandise sales, and ticket sales. Clubs also earn substantial income from participating in various leagues and tournaments. The players are a significant part of this revenue generation because their performance and popularity drive these income streams.
  3. Broadcasting rights: With the advent of Pay-TV and global broadcasting, clubs now earn considerable income from selling their broadcasting rights. These rights are sold not only in the domestic market but also globally, which brings a substantial influx of revenue. The better and more popular the player, the higher the viewership and the greater the revenue from broadcasting rights.
  4. Commercialization and globalization: Football has become a global sport, with fans from all over the world. This global appeal has resulted in lucrative sponsorship deals and merchandise sales, contributing significantly to club revenue. Players often have individual sponsorship deals, further boosting their income.
  5. Brand value: Top players often have a high brand value, and their presence in a club can significantly increase the club’s brand value as well. This brand value translates into various commercial opportunities for both the club and the player, resulting in higher wages for the player.
  6. Competition: Football clubs compete fiercely for top talent, which drives up players’ wages. When multiple clubs are interested in a player, their value increases, and they can negotiate higher wages.
  7. Players’ agents: Players’ agents play a crucial role in negotiating contracts and salaries. A skilled agent can significantly increase a player’s wage.

In essence, the economics behind footballers’ massive wages is multi-faceted, driven by market dynamics, the global popularity of the sport, media rights, commercialization, and the unique talent and brand value the players bring to their clubs.