Football is a sport that is played in over 200 countries worldwide, with nearly 300 million players playing the game all around the globe. Its reach and popularity makes it one of the most lucrative sports in the world.
Thus, given the magnitude of the viewership it generates, there are thousands of footballers who take in millions of dollars annually only as salary for their duties, while the endorsement money comes as the cherry on top of the cake.
As you are reading this, you probably already have names popping up in your head as to who will appear on top of this list. So without further ado, let’s dive into this and take a look at the richest active male footballers in the world.
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|Rank||Footballer||Net Worth||Career Span||Major Titles||Brand Endorsements|
|1||Fiaq Bolkiah||US$20 billion||2021–Present||Nil||Nil|
|2||Cristiano Ronaldo||US$490 million||2002–Present||32||Nike, Herbalife, DAZN, Clear, MTG, Altice Portugal,
Genera Free Fire, American Tourister, LiveScore, Tag Heuer
|3||Lionel Messi||US$420 million||2004–Present||35||Adidas, Ooredo, Lay's, Pepsi, Gatorade, Budweiser, Jacob & Co.,
Hard Rock International, Socios.com, Leafty, SikSilk, Sirin Labs, Orcam
|4||Neymar||US$220 million||2009–Present||25||Puma, Red Bull, Beats Electronics, Mastercard, DAZN, EA, Gillette, TCL.|
|5||Zlatan Ibrahimovic||US$190 million||1999–Present||31||Nike, Nivea, Volvo, Vitamin Well, Microsoft XBox|
|6||Alexandre Pato||US$145 million||2006–Present||7||CoverGirl Cosmetics|
|7||Gareth Bale||US$125 million||2006–Present||14||Nissan, Konami, EA Sports, Foot Locker, BT Sport, Lucozade|
|8||Andrés Iniesta||US$120 million||2001–Present||35||Asics, Nissan, UFX.com|
|9||Mesut Özil||US$101 million||2006–Present||9||Adidas, Mercedes-Benz|
|10||Eden Hazard||US$100 million||2005–Present||9||Nike, Sina Sports, Topps, Lotus Bakeries|
#10 Eden Hazard (US$100 million)
Career span: 2007–Present
Considered one of the greatest players of his generation, the 31-year-old Belgium international made a name for himself playing for Chelsea for seven years before making the switch to the Spanish capital with Real Madrid. Known for his creativity, dribbling, ball control and passing, Hazard has played as a winger or attacking playmaker for much of his career.
Since making his professional debut for LOSC Lille in 2007, Hazard has played 612 senior professional club matches, scoring 166 goals and providing 155 assists. He has also represented the Belgium men’s national team 116 times, scoring 33 goals and providing 35 assists.
While the 31-year-old has struggled for fitness and match time ever since moving to Real Madrid for a base fee of €100 million, there is no doubt that the Belgian has successfully leveraged his reputation to build a successful brand. Alongside Nike, which has been his official sports equipment supplier since 2012, Hazard has sponsorship deals with Sina Sports, Topps, and Lotus Bakeries. Besides, Hazard also owns a US$12m mansion in Spain.
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#9 Mesut Özil (US$101 million)
Career span: 2006–Present
A quick, agile, creative and technical player with exceptional ball control and dribbling skills, Mesut Özil is a generational talent who seems to have lost the plot during the latter stages of his career. If only he had the work rate and professionalism needed to compete at the elite level for a sustained period of time, his name would have been sung among some of the greatest playmakers to ever grace the football pitch.
Born and raised in Gelsenkirchen, Özil began his senior professional career with hometown club Schalke 04 before signing for Werder Bremen in 2008 at the age of 19. Cup success in his first full season with Bremen and individual brilliance led to Real Madrid knocking on his door in 2010. He finished the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2012 European Championship as the top assist provider as Germany made it to the semi-finals of both those tournaments.
As a Germany international, Özil holds the record for the most German Player of the Year awards (5), while his three seasons with Real Madrid saw him finish as the top assist provider in all of those seasons (80 assists in total for Los Blancos).
Özil was pivotal to Germany’s cause during the 2014 FIFA World Cup as they lifted the title after a 24-year-long wait, while he was one of Arséne Wenger’s trusted deputies at Arsenal before falling out of favour with Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta, the latter showing him the door after repeated incidents of unprofessional behaviour. Despite this, his £350,000-a-week salary at Arsenal helped him a long way in building his fortunes. The now Turkish resident is backed by his long association with Adidas since 2013, which has helped him in enhancing his personal brand M10, which also competes in FIFA and Fortnite tournaments.
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#8 Andrés Iniesta (US$120 million)
Career span: 2001–Present
A product of Barcelona’s iconic youth academy La Masia, Andrés Iniesta is considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time. He made his debut at a young age of 18, and by the 2004-05 season, he had established himself as one of the key players in the Barça setup under Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard. Until 2018, he remained one of the first names on the team sheet. Iniesta was integral to the Barcelona sides that won the treble in ’09 and ’15, while his 35 trophies, which include nine LaLiga titles and nine UEFA Champions League titles, made him the most decorated Spanish footballer of all time.
The 37-year-old also represented the Spanish men’s national side 132 times, scoring 14 goals in the process and providing 30 assists. However, his biggest trait was stepping up his game in clutch situations. He won the Man of the Match award in the final of the 2008 European Championship as Spain lifted the trophy for the first time, while he also scored the winning goal in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final as he was adjudged the Player of the Match and made it to the All-Star Team. Similarly, the 2012 European Championship final against Italy was another instance where Iniesta showcased his technical prowess as he helped Spain retain their title while winning the Man of the Match award in the final as well as the Player of the Tournament award.
2018 saw this Spanish legend travel further east as he joined Vissel Kobe of the J1 League in Japan. He joined on a €25 million-a-year deal while also replacing his long-term partner Nike with Japanese sportswear brand Asics. His other major sponsorship deals include the likes of Nissan and UFX.com, while he is also the majority shareholder of his boyhood club, Albacete Balompié.
#7 Gareth Bale (US$125 million)
Career span: 2006-Present
Gareth Bale began his professional career at Southampton playing as a left-back and earning the tag of a free-kick specialist. In 2007, Tottenham Hotspur poached him for a fee of £7 million. During his time at White Hart Lane, Bale gradually developed his game to become more of an attacking threat in the final third of the pitch, which saw him transition into a winger.
From 2010 to 2013, Bale was one of the best players in the Premier League. He won the PFA Players’ Player of the Year award in 2011 and 2013 and was also named in the UEFA Team of the Year for those seasons. In 2013, he was named the PFA Players’ Young Player of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year and the Premier League Player of the Season.
On 1 September 2013, Bale signed for Real Madrid for what was then a world-record fee of €100.8 million, exceeding the previous record of £80 million that Los Blancos paid for Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009.
Bale’s first few seasons with the club saw him win every major trophy there is to be won by a European club, including four UEFA Champions League titles. However, Real Madrid have been regretting every single day the £600,000-a-week contract extension they gave the Welshman in 2016.
However bizarre it may sound, while Bale hasn’t been able to earn his place at Real Madrid with his lack of professionalism, he has been stellar for Wales at the international level. In their recent World Cup Qualification Playoff match, for example, it was him who bailed his team out by scoring a brace against Austria.
In terms of off-pitch income sources, Bale has a long-standing relationship with Adidas, which serves as his sports equipment supplier. The Wales captain also holds sponsorship deals with Nissan, Lucozade, BT Sport and has been a cover star of EA Sports’ FIFA Series (FIFA 14) and Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer for its Euro 2016 content in the past. Bale also charges north of £135,000 for a sponsored post on Instagram.
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#6 Alexandre Pato (US$145 million)
Career span: 2006-Present
Despite the early rise to stardom, Alexandre Pato never really reached the heights he was touted for, and yet, aged just 32, he is part of a select group of active players who are the richest footballers in the world.
Pato made his debut at the age of 16 for Brazilian club Internacional in 2006, and in 2007, Italian giants AC Milan roped him in. However, 2009 turned out to be his big breakthrough year as he scored 18 goals in 42 matches in all competitions, winning the Golden Boy and Serie A Young Player of the Year awards, while he was also AC Milan’s joint-highest goalscorer as the Rossoneri lifted the Serie A title in 2010-11.
After a decade of ups and downs—at least on the pitch—Pato now plays for MLS club Orlando City, while his fortune can be put down to his many investments and endorsement deals. Pato has an endorsement deal with CoverGirl Cosmetics, while he also owns a restaurant chain (Fat Pato Burger) in Brasília along with a football team (Pato Branco Angels) and his own brands of vodka (Pure Wonderpato) and perfume (With Love From Alexandre).
#5 Zlatan Ibrahimović (US$190 million)
Career span: 1999–Present
Beginning his career with Malmö FF in 1999, Zlatan earned a reputation as one of the most promising forwards in Europe and spent years plying his trade for different European clubs — Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, PSG and Manchester United — before flying further west to play in Major League Soccer, before the fame and competition of the European leagues lured him back to AC Milan. Now 40, Zlatan is still going strong and is the leader of the AC Milan forward line which is challenging for the title. Besides, he is also the club’s top earner with a €7 million-a-year salary.
Ibrahimović is Sweden’s men’s national team’s all-time leading goalscorer with 62 goals, while he is one of 11 players to have represented Sweden more than 100 times. Furthermore, he has been awarded the Guldbollen (the Golden Ball), which is given to the Swedish player of the year, a record 12 times, including winning it consecutively for 10 seasons straight between 2007 and 2016. In 2015, UEFA ranked him as the best player ever not to have won the UEFA Champions League.
Off the pitch, Ibrahimović is known for his brash personality and outspoken comments. But that only helps him grab more attention as his sponsorship deals earn him around US$10 million annually and include association with the likes of Nike as well as Nivea, Samsung, Microsoft Xbox and Volvo. The Swedish legend also owns three mansions that are collectively valued at US$15 million, while his other investments include his own range of perfumes as well as a 23.5% stake in Swedish top-flight club Hammarby IF.
#4 Neymar (US$220 million)
Career span: 2009-Present
If you had looked at some of his luxurious cars or the crazy and lavish parties he has thrown in the past, it is hard not to think of Neymar when talking about some of the richest active footballers in the world. The Brazilian came into prominence at Santos, where he made his professional debut aged 17. He was pivotal to Santos winning two consecutive Campeonato Paulista Championships, a Copa do Brasil, and the 2011 Copa Libertadores — the club’s first since 1963.
2013 saw Neymar join Catalan giants FC Barcelona and become a part of the infamous MSN (partnering up with Leo Messi and Luis Suárez) trio that terrorised world football en route to a historical European treble in 2015 before moving to the French capital and signing for Paris-Saint Germain for a then-world-record fee of €222 million, becoming the most expensive player of all time in the process. Reportedly, Neymar currently earns close to US$70 million per year at PSG.
The Brazilian playmaker also finds himself fourth in Forbes’ list of the top 10 highest-paid athletes with a calendar earning of US$95 million. Having recently changed his equipment supplier from Nike to Puma, Neymar reportedly rakes in around US$25 million from endorsement deals, while his other major sponsorship deals include the likes of Red Bull, REPLAY, GaGà Milano, Pokerstars, Qatar Airways and QNB.
#3 Lionel Messi (US$420 million)
Career span: 2003-Present
After relocating to Spain at the age of 13 to join FC Barcelona, for whom he made his competitive debut at the age of 17, Lionel Messi gradually established himself as one of the best players in the world. In his first uninterrupted season, the Argentine helped Barcelona win a European treble in 2008/09. At the age of 22, he won the Ballon d’Or for the first time. By 2012, he had won four consecutive Ballons d’Or, making him the first player in history to achieve said feat. Throughout the 2010s, Messi was embroiled in a battle of supremacy with his “friend” and on-field rival Cristiano Ronaldo, as the two shared the spotlight for more than 15 years.
As an Argentina international, Messi is both his country’s highest appearance-maker and all-time leading goalscorer. As a youth player, he won the 2005 FIFA World Youth Championship and then won an Olympic gold medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But international silverware in the biggest tournaments eluded him for the better part of more than a decade before La Albiceleste finally got their hands on the Copa América trophy in 2021.
With the leaked information about his previous contract with Barcelona and then the new two-year-deal with PSG, some Messi fans might find it hard to believe that their idol sits third on this list, but then, he still rakes up roughly US$75 million annually, with close to US$55 million of it coming from sponsorship deals, as he sits on top of the latest Forbes top 10 highest-paid athletes list. Some of his major endorsements include Adidas, Pepsi, Lay’s, Gatorade and Budweiser. Messi has appeared on the cover of KONAMI’s Pro Evolution Soccer as a Barça player while also having served as the cover star for EA Sports’ FIFA series for four instalments, from 2013 to 2016.
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#2 Cristiano Ronaldo (US$490 million)
Career span: 2002–Present
Born and raised in Madeira, Cristiano Ronaldo began his senior club career with Sporting CP before signing for Manchester United in 2003 aged 18. In the following years, Ronaldo established himself as one of the best-attacking players in the world, helping Sir Alex Ferguson’s Red Devils clinch three consecutive Premier League titles, the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. He won his first Ballon d’Or aged just 23. However, the best was yet to come as a summer switch to Real Madrid in 2009 for a then world-record fee of €80 million resulted in him completely changing the fortunes of the club. He won 15 trophies in total, including two LaLiga titles, two Copas del Rey and four UEFA Champions League titles. He also became the club’s all-time top goalscorer in the process.
In 2018, Ronaldo signed for Juventus. Having Cristiano Ronaldo onboard filled the Old Lady with the belief that a UEFA Champions League title was within reach. However, things never materialised the way they wanted. Ronaldo, though, did help Juve to two Serie A titles, two Supercoppe Italiane, and a Coppa Italia before returning to Manchester United in the summer of 2021.
On the international stage, Ronaldo has represented Portugal a record 186 times, making him the country’s most capped player, while he has the most international goals scored by any male footballer in the history of the game with 115 goals. He was instrumental in Portugal’s 2016 European Championship-winning run, with whom he also won the UEFA Nations League in 2019.
Unsurprisingly, the CR7 brand has grown exponentially over the last decade. Ronaldo’s sponsorship portfolio is as good a template as there shall ever be for growing a brand outside of your sport of choice. Alongside his reported £500,000-a-week salary at Manchester United, Cristiano has a lifetime deal with Nike, while his other major sponsorships include the likes of Herbalife, Altice, DAZN Sports, and MTG. The 37-year-old also finds himself third in Forbes’ list of the 10 highest-paid athletes for 2022 as he raked in a massive US$115 million last calendar year, with US$55 million coming from endorsement deals.
Cristiano has also invested in a hair transplant clinic in Madrid called Insparya. Through his CR7 brand, he also runs a clothing line, a perfume series, multiple beauty products and a chain of fitness centres. He has his own museum in his hometown of Madeira, whose international airport is named after him. With the biggest fanbase across all major social media platforms, Cristiano Ronaldo’s brand easily bags him the spot as one of the richest footballers ever.
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#1 Faiq Bolkiah (US$20 billion)
Career span: 2020–Present
This might come as a shock to you if you don’t follow football close enough, but for football nerds, the name Faiq Bolkiah is well-known for quite a few years. No, he isn’t the most high-profile footballer on the list and no, he barely has any endorsement deals, but purely out of his passion for football which qualifies him for this list, Faiq Jefri Bolkiah’s wealth blows everyone else on this list out of the water and then some.
Son of Jefri Bolkiah, Prince of Brunei and nephew of Hassanal Bolkiah, the current Sultan of Brunei, it is needless to say Faiq will never have to chase money in his life. Born in Los Angeles, he holds dual citizenship of both Brunei and the US. Despite having never played in the Premier League, Faiq spent time in the academies of Southampton (2009-13), Arsenal (2013-14), Chelsea (2014-15) and Leicester City (2016) during his time in the UK. He joined Portuguese top-flight club Marítimo last season before switching to Thai club Chonburi ahead of the 2021-22 season. He’s also the captain of the Brunei men’s national football team.
While the other players on the list have worked quite hard during their illustrious careers to build their brand and secure their wealth, one can hardly argue that it’ll take quite an endeavour for anyone to surpass Faiq Bolkiah’s US$20bn mark.