The biggest earner in the game and the undisputed social media king is crowned in European football's rich list
They are the big names who have changed football on and off the field in the last few years and that explains why moves for the biggest stars in football have become so much more than a transaction between two sporting organisations.
Neymar’s transfer from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2017 re-wrote the rule book on how a move would be financed, with leaks of how the deal was structured confirming around £240m was paid out to all involved in a transaction that was commercially driven in a bid to boost the image of the buying club.
So many factors are now considered when a club assesses the commercial viability of a deal, with the player’s age and ability fused with his profile on social media and the potential he could offer to attract new sponsors.
For the handful of superstars who call into the game’s elite list on and off the field, the rewards can be mind-blowing, as our rich list confirms.
1. NEYMAR (Paris Saint-Germain)
Social media following: 227.2m
Neymar’s £200m move to Paris Saint-Germain changed the game forever and it was not just the obscene transfer fee that sparked a huge inflation rise in the football market.
According to Football Leaks, Neymar’s father and Israeli agent Pini Zahavi received around £10m from the deal and his former club Santos also collected £8.7m, with PSG believing the commercial spins-offs and inflated status from signing Neymar would be worth the investment.
Now the player has confirmed he wanted to leave PSG, with the French champions looking to reclaim most of their outlay as the player who has around 30 high profile sponsorship deals to bolster his stunning income.
2. LIONEL MESSI (Barcelona)
Social media following: 215m
Messi signed a new contract with Barcelona in November 2017 that reflected his status as the world’s best player, with suggestions that he will be paid over £50m in bonuses on top of his salary over the course of the deal, but that is only the start of staggering annual cashflow.
His long-term contract with Adidas is said to be one of the most lucrative in sport and the recently published Forbes rich list placed Messi at the top of the charts, with his net worth of $400m likely to be a modest assessment of the wealth of this superstar who also endorses Mastercard and Pepsi.
3. CRISTIANO RONALDO (Juventus)
Social media following: 376.8m
Aside from his huge signing-on fee, Ronaldo did not receive a salary increase when he left Real Madrid to join Juventus last summer, but the move is believed to have freed up some of the commercial restraints he was working with during his time at Real Madrid.
With his image rights now more under his control, the Portuguese superstar and his influential agent Jorge Mendes have a chance to sign lucrative long-term contracts that will run long after the 32-year-old’s playing career comes to an end.
The social media king of football, a single Ronaldo message to his army of followers is worth millions to sponsors that include Nike, EA Sports and DAZN.
4. GARETH BALE (Real Madrid)
Social media following: 86.4m
Bale was handed a huge deal when he extended his contract with Real Madrid in October 2016, with his pre-tax salary of £600,000-a-week making him the highest earner at the club.
That deal now looks to be misguided as his huge salary is an insurmountable stumbling block to any potential move, with his future at Real Madrid uncertain as head coach Zinedine Zidane has made it clear that he is not a fan of the Welshman.
His social media following has exploded in recent years, with his infrequent Instagram posts attracting huge numbers as he works with sponsors including Adidas, EA Sports and from business investments made in his name.
5. PAUL POGBA (Manchester United)
Social media following: 50.9m
Pogba signed a 10-year sponsorship deal with Adidas reported to be worth £31m in 2016, which involves a handful of media appearances and some high profile advertising campaigns that he promotes to his huge audience on social media.
His lucrative tie-in with Adidas was a positive factor in his move to Manchester United.
This maverick star will be performing in Adidas kit next season if he moves to Real Madrid or Juventus in this summer’s transfer window and his inflated position in our rich list is due to his commercial interests and the net wealth he generates outside of his Manchester United contract.
6. ALEXIS SANCHEZ (Manchester United)
Salary: £350,000-a-week (before bonuses)
Social media following: 17.7m
Sanchez has been a resounding flop since his record-breaking move from Arsenal to Manchester United in January 2018, with the contract he signed boosted by his status as a free-transfer signing that ensures he receives huge ‘loyalty bonuses’ each summer on top of his £350,000-a-week salary.
Many of the bonuses built into Sanchez’s deal have not been activated as he has scored just three Premier League goals for United and failed to hit appearance targets, but the money will continue to roll in for the Chilean, who also has lucrative deals in place with Nike and Huawei.
7. MESUT OZIL (Arsenal)
Social media following: 75.6m
Ozil and his advisers were clever in their branding of the former Germany midfielder, as they appreciated the power of social media early in his career and he quickly built up a following that ensured he was a commodity as a sportsman and a brand ambassador.
He has substantially more followers on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook than Arsenal FC and that helped him to secure the huge contract signed in January 2018, with his woeful performances on the field overlooked as the club invested in his commercial value.
That deal has proved to be misguided, as they are now struggling to off-load a player who still has two years left to run on his contract.
8. ANTOINE GRIEZMANN (Barcelona)
Social media followers: 40.5m
This French World Cup-winning striker has been in football’s rich list for some time as he was rewarded for his loyalty to Atletico Madrid by being handed inflated wages that put him in a league of his own at his former club.
He is not believed to have received a huge pay rise following his move to Barcelona earlier this month, but his commercial value has been given a huge boost by his move to the Nou Camp and he could be in for a pay-rise from chief sponsors Puma. The 28-year-old also has deals with Head & Shoulders, Gillette, Huawei, Beats by Dre and luxury watch brand HYT.