Professional footballer is one of the most coveted careers in the world of sports. Elite players enjoy considerable salaries with their club teams, while many are able to earn money away from the game thanks to their valuable image rights. Still others have made their money through self-made luxury brands, endorsements, and business investments. This latest generation of soccer superstars have proved their skills on the pitch, which has enabled them to succeed financially. However, there is more than one way to make it onto our list of the top 25.
Professional soccer players live under constant media scrutiny and international attention. They are compensated for their lack of anonymity with the ability to change their home communities and make a positive impact on the youth that look up to them.
Combined the top 25 players in the world have net worth’s totaling $2.66 billion. These athletes come from 15 different countries, yet none of them are from North America. England is home to five players on the list, the most of any nation. Five members of the top 25 play their football in Spain’s La Liga. Five footballers on the list are retired, yet continue to be public figures involved with the sport. Two are currently free agents, who can increase their net worth with another new contract on the horizon.
Spending and investment in international soccer are currently at an all-time high. Clubs pay hundreds of millions of dollars for players transfer rights. Shoe companies compete for footballers to wear their gear and design clothing lines inspired by their experience and lifestyle. Their image rights are brand names worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
25 T20. Zlatan Ibrahimovic - $60 million
Zlatan is one of the most recognizable and decorated footballers in the world today. During June’s World Cup in Brazil, his cartoon character appeared nightly on ESPN. Zlatan has won league titles in four countries and eleven total league titles. His autobiography “I am Zlatan” has received critical acclaim and been well received by the public. Zlatan has appeared in commercials for both Nike and Volvo.
24 T20. Ryan Giggs - $60 million
Ryan Giggs is currently an assistant coach for Manchester United. He retired in May following an illustrious 24 year career with the United where he earned 13 Premier League titles and 2 UEFA Champions League titles. During his last season as a player/coach, he served as interim manager for a period of four matches. Giggs has appeared in advertisements for Reebok, Citizen Watches, Fuji, and Givenchy.
23 T20. Sami Khedira - $60 million
In the last two months, Sami Khedira has won the World Cup with Germany and the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid. He is a dominating midfielder and a Nike sponsored player. He has appeared on the cover of GQ with his model girlfriend Lena Gercke. Khedira also has appeared in advertisements for Audi.
22 T20. Thierry Henry - $60 million
Thierry Henry is one of the most recognizable players in the world. His spectacular career has taken him to success with Arsenal and Barcelona before he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010. Henry has had endorsement deals with Nike, Puma, Reebok, Gilette, Pepsi, and Renault. He is also involved in charitable work with UNICEF, Stand Up Speak Up, and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
21 T20. Sergio Ramos - $60 million
Sergio Ramos played a crucial role as defender in the dominant Spain squad that won two European Championships and one FIFA World Cup. He has also enjoyed a decorated career at Real Madrid where he has earned four FIFPro World XI Awards and three La Liga titles. Ramos has appeared in commercials for Nike, Gatorade, and Nivea Men.
20 T20. Franck Ribery - $60 million
Franck Ribery is a French winger who possesses lethal speed and dribbling ability. He has played an influential role as party of Bayern Munich where he has won four Bundesliga titles and one UEFA Champions League crown. Ribery has appeared on the cover of the video game FIFA in France as well as number of Nike commercials.
19 Samuel Eto’o - $64 million
Samuel Eto’o is the first player in history to win back-to-back UEFA Champions League titles with separate clubs. His career has taken him from his country of Cameroon to the elite leagues of Spain, Italy, Russia, and England. As a current free agent, he is free to join any club that is willing to meet his considerable salary, which was £7 million last season. Eto’o has appeared in Puma commercials alongside Usain Bolt and recently appeared in a World Cup advertisement for Budweiser.
18 Michael Owen - $68 million
Michael Owen had the end of his career cut short by injuries. However during his career he managed to score over 200 goals for club and country. The former England international now appears as a television pundit with BT Sport. During his career he has enjoyed endorsement deals with Jaguar, Nestle, Tissot, and appeared on the cover of Konami’s Pro-Evolution Soccer 2008. Owen also owns several race horses and is a helicopter pilot.
17 T14. Fabio Capello - $70 million
Fabio Capello had a 16 year career as a player with AC Milan, Roma, and Juventus. His retirement as a player was only the beginning, as he went on to become one of the most successful managers of all time. He has had three managerial stints with AC Milan, two with Real Madrid, before becoming the highest paid international manger in the world with England. He is currently the manager of Russia where he earns in excess of $10 million per year. Capello also has an extensive fine art collection, rumored to be worth £10 million.
16 T14. Zinedine Zidane – $70 million
Zinedine Zidane earned international notoriety for his headbutt in the 2006 World Cup Final. However, fans of the game already knew him as one of the best midfielders of all time, which was showcased when he won the World Cup and Ballon D’or in 1998. He was a major part of the “Galacticos” Real Madrid squad of the early 2000s. He now serves as an assistant coach for the club. He has appeared in advertisements for Adidas, Lego, Audi, and Christian Dior.
15 T14. Yaya Toure - $70 million
Yaya Toure is coming off of his second English Premier League title with Manchester City. The box-to-box midfielder is a nightmare for defenders and contract negotiators alike, because he is rumored to be unhappy with his current deal which pays him $334,000 per week. Toure has a sponsorship agreement with Puma which requires the company to donate clothing and shoes to underprivileged children in West Africa.
14 T14. Radamel Falcao - $70 million
Radamel Falcao missed the recent World Cup due to injury, his absence cost him the chance to become a household name like his compatriot James Rodriguez. After winning the Europa League with Atletico Madrid, he departed the club for AS Monaco of Ligue 1. Falcao has endorsement deals with Puma, Samsung, and Gilette.
13 Rio Ferdinand - $75 million
Rio Ferdinand is entering his 20th season as a professional footballer. He has just left Manchester United after a 12 year stint with the Red Devils. During his time with the club he became a household name in England and became the captain of the national team. The dominating center back has become a mainstream celebrity by hosting several television shows and using his celebrity to encourage children away from criminal life.
12 Arjen Robben - $80 million
Arjen Robben has found success in four different countries, winning domestic titles in Germany, Spain, England and his home nation, the Netherlands. The Dutch speedster is known for having quick feet, being an explosive dribbler and for occasional diving at important times in the game. Just ask Mexico. Robben is a brand ambassador for Adidas and has appeared in numerous ads for the company.
11 Andres Iniesta - $86 million
Andres Iniesta has spent his entire career with Barcelona. He has won the World Cup, Champions League, European Championship, and won six La Liga titles. The midfield maestro is the brains behind the Spanish and Barcelona attacks. He is sponsored by Nike and recently appeared in World Cup advertisements for both Nike and Powerade. Iniesta is also a major shareholder of his boyhood club, Albacete.
10 Ronaldinho - $90 million
Ronaldinho is the player that most embraced the Brazilian “Joga Bonito” philosophy. He has earned the right to lift the World Cup Trophy and was honored as the Ballon D’Or in 2005. During his illustrious career he has been endorsed by Nike, EA Sports, Gatorade, and Danone. He has appeared on the cover of the FIFA video game five times and is one of only a few celebrities to endorse both Coca-Cola and Pepsi.
9 T7. Philipp Lahm - $100 million
Philipp Lahm captured a World Cup this summer to add to his trophy case which includes Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League titles. His autobiography “The Subtle Difference – How to Become a Top Footballer” was a #1 bestseller in Germany. He uses his celebrity to promote tolerance within football and has been a World AIDS Day ambassador three times. Lahm has sponsorship agreements with Adidas and Nintendo.
8 T7. Kaka – $100 million
Kaka is another member of the list from Brazil and has had a spectacular club career that has stretched across three continents. One of the most revered players in Milan's illustrious history, he notched his 100th goal for Milan this past season. He has recently signed a deal with new MLS club, Orlando City where he'll play after a six month loan at boyhood club Sao Paulo. Kaka has appeared on regional covers of the FIFA video game, featured prominently in Adidas advertising, and has a modeling contract with Armani.
7 T7. Eden Hazard
Eden Hazard is valued at over $100 million dollars despite being only 23 years old. Earlier this spring he renewed his sponsorship contract with Nike, despite being approached by Chelsea sponsor Adidas. Hazard is one of the most exciting players to watch in world football and with many years left of earning potential, he could climb further up this list.
6 Wayne Rooney - $125 million
Wayne Rooney is a household name around the world. He is currently starring in a national advertisement for Chevrolet and Manchester United. He has appeared on the cover of FIFA twice and signed the largest ever sports book deal in history with HarperCollins. Rooney also has had sponsorship deals with ASDA, Coca-Cola, Ford, and Nokia.
5 Alexandre Pato - $145 million
Alexandre Pato is another young player who has found his way onto the list before the age of 25. He has found success in both Italy and Brazil. He began his career at Milan where he was touted as "the next big thing" before injury troubles forced a transfer to his native Brazil. Pato has an endorsement deal with Nike. Recently, Pato drew controversy for transferring from Corinthians to their rival Sao Paolo.
4 Lionel Messi - $180 million
Lionel Messi is an almost universally recognizable figure. His devoted performances at the 2014 World Cup earned him praise from around the world, except for the finals versus the Germans. The four time Ballon D’Or winner is an Adidas sponsored athlete and ambassador for Turkish Airlines. He has appeared on the cover of both Pro Evolution Soccer and the FIFA franchise. Messi has worked with charitable organizations in Argentina as well as UNICEF. Despite his generosity, Messi will be forced to appear in Spanish court this fall on charges of tax evasion.
3 Dave Whelan – $210 million
Dave Whelan was a professional footballer for ten years with Blackburn and Crewe Alexandria before a leg injury suddenly ended his career. He changed his focus to his chain of grocery stores, which he later sold. He was then able to invest his earnings in the company, JJB, which became the second largest sports equipment retailer in the United Kingdom. He now owns English club Wigan Athletic, who play in the English Championship.
2 Cristiano Ronaldo - $250 million
Cristiano Ronaldo won the Champions League for the second time in May. He is the face of Nike Football, with his own signature line. Ronaldo also has sponsorships from Coca-Cola, Castrol, Tag Heuer, KFC, and Motorola. His wealth has allowed him to open a museum in his hometown of Funchal, which houses his trophies and memorabilia. Ronaldo has done charitable work with Save the Children and has funded schools and hospitals around the world. Despite his flamboyant image, he remains one of the most gracious and charitable superstars in world football.
1 David Beckham - $350 million
David Beckham is a multifaceted superstar. He is a retired footballer turned franchise owner and fashion icon. In 2003, he signed a lifetime sponsorship deal with Adidas that has earned him over $160 million. His blockbuster transfer to the MLS included a clause which allowed him to purchase an expansion franchise for $25 million. Beckham is now battling to build a soccer specific stadium in Miami and bring the city their first MLS team. Becks has his own fashion line with H&M. He has also appeared in ads for Pepsi, Diet Coke, Armani, Burger King, and Samsung. Beckham has a longstanding charitable relationship with UNICEF and is a patron of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
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