Soccer is a sport so universally loved billions of people both play and watch it, but the sport's best leagues are found in Europe. Much like America's National Basketball Association and National Football League, playing in the European soccer leagues- particularly Spain's La Liga and England's Premier League- is deemed the pinnacle because of the caliber of players they attract.
However, world-class players also grace other leagues, such as France's Ligue 1 and Germany's Bundesliga, which means that as well as broadcasting some of the finest soccer talents on their shores, they also have hefty wage bills that would put certain NBA and NFL salaries to shame. With that in mind, we've decided to list the highest paid players in the men's game.
Please note that this is not an assessment of overall wealth, but of yearly earnings from a yearly period. The list is no particular order.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo- $108m
Aside from pop superstar Taylor Swift, Cristiano Ronaldo boasts more social media followers than any other public figure, and while many in America may not know who he is, the rest of the world sure does. He's a leader of men and a talent no other active soccer player, barring the magisterial might of the Barcelona and Argentina forward Lionel Messi, has been able to match.
Scouted by the legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson following Manchester United's loss against Ronaldo's first professional team Sporting Lisbon in a pre-season friendly, an 18-year-old Ronaldo ran rings around accomplished full-back Gary Neville, and it was that impressive display that persuaded Ferguson to pay £12m to bring him to Manchester.
Initially castigated by teammates for not trying hard enough, Cristiano would soon dedicate every waking hour to being the best player in the world, and he soon morphed from a skinny teenager into a brawny winger more adept with the physicality that playing in England's top division required.
More importantly, his mindset changed, and in his final season in Manchester, he scored 42 goals to finish a career in England which included a Champions League trophy and three Premier League titles. Such impressive accolades caught Real Madrid's attention, a club who he would win four Champions League trophies with before transferring over to Seria A champions Juventus following 9 record-breaking years at the Bernabéu.
2. Lionel Messi- $111m
Barcelona's leading talisman has gone on to win the coveted Ballon d'Or accolade on five separate occasions and is always compared to his rival above. However, there is a strong case to suggest that Messi is a more naturally gifted player than Ronaldo, with his small frame lending itself perfectly for a game characterized by individual tricky and tight ball control.
Of course, Ronaldo's accolades and trophies speak for themselves; as do Messi's. As well as winning five Ballon d'Or awards, Messi holds the record for the most goals scored in La Liga history, goals scored in a La Liga season (50) and also possesses the highest number of La Liga assists. Add his ever-burgeoning cabinet of team trophies, which include nine La Ligas, four Champions League trophies and six Spanish Cups, and you begin to understand and appreciate the freakish talent this man possesses.
3. Ramires- $13.2m
The 31-year-old Brazilian player made a name for himself at Chelsea, where he was part of the famous 2012 team that defied all odds to win the Champions League after overcoming the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich in a compelling year for the team.
Scoring a sensational lob at the Camp Nou in the second leg of the semi-final, Ramires also enjoyed a stellar career with the Brazilian national team. Today, Ramires cashed in on his successful European career by making a move to China, where he currently earns $13.2m a-year playing for Jiangsu Suning.
4. Luiz Suarez- $26.9m
The Uruguayan striker may divide opinion following a controversial string of incidents, which have included biting an opponent's ear, but few- not even Real Madrid fans- would deny his world-class quality since making the move from Premier League giants Liverpool to La Liga titans Barcelona.
Famed for his pacey runs across the six-yard box and superb link-up play with former teammate Neymar and current partner in crime, Lionel Messi, Suarez's understanding of the game and his prolific goalscoring scoring record (he reached 100 goals for Barcelona in only his third season) makes him one of the best out-and-out strikers in world soccer.
5. Neymar- $90m
Brazil's answer to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may not have their legendary status just yet, but his natural abilities are beyond doubt, despite his goals to games ratio being considerably higher for the national team than at club level.
Since making his world record move to the Ligue 1 giants PSG, Neymar's performances have been consistently above average. His dynamism in and around the penalty box still wasn't enough, however, to help his new team win that elusive Champions League trophy last season, but during his 4-year spell at Barcelona, he collected two La Ligas and a Champions League, thanks in part to his formidable partnership with Messi and Suarez, which journalists dubbed, M.S.N.
6. Manuel Neuer- $23.2m
Germany and Bayern Munich's number one goalkeeper is the world's best goalkeeper according to most prominent pundits. The reason being stems not only from his natural shot-stopping abilities but also from his unwavering assurance and displays of intricate footwork when under pressure, and because he shares similar abilities to outfield players, he is one of a select few goalies who can get away with being a called a 'sweeper-keeper', a term ascribed to goalkeepers who regularly come outside their designated 18-yard handling area.
A World Cup and Champions League winner. Neuer's goalkeeping heroics have significantly contributed to Bayern's domestic domination over the last decade, with the 6' 4" goalie picking up four league titles, whilst personal accolades include the esteemed Golden Glove award for best goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup and finishing third behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in 2014's Ballon d'Or contest.
7. Eden Hazzard- $13.2m
Chelsea's star player may have lost his way last season following the West London team's shocking fall from grace, but since the sacking of Antonio Conte, the Belgian talisman has been given a new lease of life under new manager Maurizio Sarri.
Coming off the back of a terrific 2018 World Cup, which saw his country finish 3rd, the playmaker's goalscoring record isn't quite good enough to put him in the same bracket as the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, but he does play in a more competitive league.
8. David Silva- $15.1m
Often referred to as the Premier League's best player by television pundits and journalists, the Spanish playmaker is a natural talent and possesses a beautiful left foot. A versatile player, Silva can also be utilized as a striker or left winger, but is at his best when playing through the middle thanks to his possession-retaining qualities, and is one of only 11 Spanish first team players to have earned more than 100 caps.
For his current club Manchester City, who signed Silva from Spanish club Valencia, he has gone on to win three Premier League titles, three League Cups and an FA Cup to add to his remarkable achievements for the Spanish national team, which has seen him collect winners medals at both Euro 2008, Euro 2012 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
9. Thiago Silva- $22.4m
The PSG and Brazilian central defender has enjoyed a stellar career since making a name for himself in Europe with Italian giants AC Milan before his €42 million transfer to PSG. The big money transfer made Silva the second most expensive defender in soccer history behind retired England defender Rio Ferdinand.
Still considered the best centre-back in the world, Thiago Silva quickly established himself as an integral part of the PSG team that would go onto win four consecutive Ligue 1 titles, and he also captained his country at the 2014 World Cup where they finished fourth. Though coming up short of soccer's ultimate accolade, Silva was rated the tournament's fifth-best player by the Castrol Performance Index.
10. Wayne Rooney- $27m
D.C. United striker Wayne Rooney was once English soccer's most celebrated star the moment he scored a sensational stoppage-time winner in a 2-1 victory over Arsenal. Rooney was only 16-years-old at the time and was barely earning $100 a week before he announced himself with a strike that famously made one commentator croon, "Remember the day, remember the name, Wayne Rooney."
Now 33, Rooney would transfer to Premier League giants Manchester United two years on from his wondergoal, and under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, the stocky striker would go on to win everything in club football, winning five league titles, one Champions League title, and towards the latter stages of his time at the club, the F.A. Cup.
With various brand deals and a mammoth £300,000 contract he signed with Manchester Utd in his late 20s, Rooney's $27m salary and $100m wealth makes him Britain's second richest soccer player, with only David Beckham having made more.
11. Sergio Aguero- $23.5m
The Argentinian and Manchester City striker has made a career of scoring goals for fun and spearheading some of the sport's most dangerous attacks, be it with Messi and Higuain for the national team or with Gabriel Jesus and David Silva at Man City.
Making a name for himself at just 15 in his native Argentina before being transferred to Athletico Madrid, Aguero's prolific form earned him a lucrative move to Manchester City. After winning Premier League titles, F.A. Cups and the League Cup, Aguero has also garnered many individual honors, including breaking the club's all-time scoring record. Such reliable form has afforded Aguero a series of bumper contracts, his most recent of which sees him take home $275,000 a week. With endorsements, his yearly takings amount to around $23.5m a year.
12. Oscar- $27.4m
After transferring from the Premier League team Chelsea to the Chinese Super Ligue outfit Shanghai SPIG, the baby-faced Brazilian's wages skyrocketed to a mammoth $475,000-a-week after tax. At one point, it made him the highest paid player in the world pre-tax.
Still only 27, there is every chance the talented playmaker could make a return to European soccer, as evidenced by the Belgium star Axel Witsel and many others, the latter of whom returned to Europe by transferring the Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund following a lucrative spell in China.
Speaking about this and his surprise decision to make the move in the prime of his career, Oscar said, "I came from a social background in Brazil that is very poor. We didn’t have anything. This is the fruit of my work and when I earn this, it is because I conquered it. The same way I came here, I will be able to return to Europe. Whatever decision I make, somebody will talk good or bad about it.
All the foreign players who come here are at a really high level. China has incredible financial power and sometimes makes offers that players can’t refuse. But, as we’ve seen with Paulinho moving to Barcelona, the players on our team – like myself, Hulk and Elkeson – have enough quality to return to Europe."
13. Paul Pogba- $29.5m
Part of the recent World Cup-winning French team, the 25-year-old remains one of the sport's most famous faces and represents a new generation of soccer superstars. However, the Manchester United midfielder is yet to fulfil his potential for the Red Devils, despite being a World Cup winner.
And after a rumored fallout with manager Jose Mourinho, it appears the colorful Frenchman will look elsewhere for clubs when the summer transfer window comes calling.
14. Angel Di Maria- $22.6m
The Argentinian winger endured a rough period in England, where he lasted only one season with Manchester United before transferring to French champions Paris St Germain. In the French capital, Di Maria has cemented himself as one of the team's star players but the star's lithe movement and awe-inspiring dribbling skills were at their peak when playing for La Liga titans Real Madrid, where he was named UEFA's Man of The Match in the 2014 Champions League final against fierce rivals Atletico Madrid.
With three big money moves in his career, Di Maria's annual salary at the age of 30 stands at $22.6m, making him the fourth richest Argentinian soccer player on our list.
15. Kylian Mbappe- $22.5m
The French superstar forward is still only 19, a remarkable age considering that he is already a World Cup winner with the French national team. On top of this, the striker's form for PSG has been scintillating, with Mbappe now forming part of a fierce front three with fellow attacking superstars Neymar and Cavani.
With such proven form and even more unlocked potential, Mbappe is one of the best-paid soccer stars in the world despite his young age.
16. James Rodriguez- $22.1m
The Columbian ace made a global name for himself during his country's quarter-final run in the 2014 World Cup, scoring what would be the goal of the tournament with a delightful volley against Uruguay in the second-round stage. Rodriguez was also awarded the FIFA Puskas Award for the goal, but aside from individual accolades, the skilful playmaker didn't have too much to shout about once he got his dream move to Real Madrid following the tournament.
Despite his best efforts, the young playmaker never found his feet in a dressing room full of superstars but has since found his form again at the German champions Bayern Munich.
17. Graziano Pelle- $22.1m
Another player to turn to China for mega riches, Pelle is a special case in this sense in that he wasn't particularly setting the world of soccer alight with his performances when he got his move to China. For most of his career, Pelle journey around his native Italy and then Holland, where he found some success at Feyenoord before the Premier Leauge came knocking. It was there, at Premier League strugglers Southampton, that Pelle found the best form of his life. He was rewarded by earning a place in the national team and starred for his country at the 2016 European Championships.
Two years of good form and a decent showing at the Euros eventually paved the way for his first, and presumably only big money move to the Chinese team Shandong Luneng. Pelle's new salary instantly made him one of the world's highest-paid soccer stars.
18. Hulk- $22m
Aptly named for his muscular physique, Hulk is another South American, along with fellow Brazilian, and PSIG teammate Oscar, to earn big bucks in the Chinese league following a successful career in the European leagues.
In Hulk's case, the striker was ruthless in front of goal for Porto and Zenit St. Petersburg, and this was enough to earn him a regular place in the Brazilian squad despite not turning out for one of Europe's bigger teams. Now 32, it looks likely that Hulk will see out the remainder of his career in China.
19. Zlatan Ibrahimovic- $21m
The Swedish striker is one of the most lauded players in the history of the sport. Playing for an array of iconic clubs, Zlatan made his way through the youth ranks at his local club Malmo F.F. before being spotted by the Dutch outfit Ajax. His impressive form at Malmo and Ajax would see him grow into one of the world's best strikers, with the likes of AC Milan, Inter Millan, Juventus, Barcelona, PSG and Manchester United all having Ibrahimovic on their rosters before the star called time in Europe and headed to the Major League Soccer outfit La Galaxy.
Sparking widespread interest, Zlatan, who is known for his overt confidence, made countless television appearances following his debut wonder goal and put the sport of soccer in the public realm of discussion in a way that hadn't been done statside since David Beckham moved to the Galaxy in 2007.
20. Gerard Pique- $20.8m
In many regards, Gerard Pique has it all. As well as a stellar soccer career, and millions in the bank, the Catalonia native is married to the Colombian pop star Shakira. But it is his achievements with his hometown club Barcelona that has gained him international fame.
Winning countless trophies, including numerous La Liga titles and Champions Leagues, the tall defender is also a World Cup and European Championship-winner with the Spainish national team.
21. Antoine Griezmann- $19.7m
Another member of the French World Cup-winning team to make the list is Antoine Griezmann, who stayed loyal to his industrious manager by singing a new long-term deal with the Spanish giants Athletico Madrid despite repeated interest from Barcelona.
Forming part of a lethal strikeforce with the bulky Brazilian striker Diego Costa, Griezmann remains Athelitco's star player and finished forth in 2018's Ballon d'Or vote.
22. Yaya Toure- $19.6m
The Ivorian attacking midfielder is one of Africa's most successful soccer players, winning everything from La Liga and the Champions League with Barcelona to the Premier League title with Manchester City.
Now plying his trade with Greek outfit Olympiakos, earnings from the last year of Toure's bumper Manchester city contract sees him make the list.
23. Edison Cavani- $19.5m
The fifth PSG player on our list is one part of the fearsome attacking trio comprised of Neymar, Mbappe and himself. The Uruguayan is the French club's top scorer, and despite a rumored dispute with Neymar last season, Cavani seems to be less agitated with his new strike partner and looks set to see out the remainder of his contract with the Parisian outfit.
Despite winning every major cup competition in France, the former Napoli man has never won the Champions League.
24. David De Gea- $15.1m
One of only two goalkeepers on our list, the Spanish shot-stopper is argubally Man Utd's most important player, literally saving them countless times in crucial matches.
The subject of many rumors concerning a move to Real Madrid over the last few years, Utd have stood their ground and recently tied De Gea down to a lucrative five-year deal.
25. Ezequiel Lavezzi- $17.5m
The former PSG and Napoli striker Ezequiel Lavezzi was one of the first coveted European-based players to make the switch to China.
Tieing him down to a two-year deal, Lavezzi's mouthwatering wages at Hebei China Fortune equate to an annual, tax-free salary of around $17.5m.
26. Mesut Ozil- $18.1m
The German playmaker recently signed a bumper new pay deal at Arsenal which saw his already-high wages rise considerably.
While he is a player blessed with natural ability, Ozil has a reputation for going missing in the big games. More worryingly for Arsenal fans, the former Real Madrid star hasn't found his form of old since signing his new deal and has recently been left out of the Arsenal squad by new manager Unai Emery.
27. Alexis Sanchez- $21.2m
Mesut Ozil's former teammate was less enamoured with the prospect of signing a new deal with the North London outfit so made the move up North to Manchester United, where his wages almost tripled.
However, just like Ozil, Sanchez has struggled to find the form that gained him his lucrative contract.
28. Kevin De Bruyne- $21.2m
Manchester City's star player and all-round creative has propelled himself into one of the world's most prized midfielders in the last couple of years, with many in the game tipping the Belgian as a future Ballon d'Or winner.
Still only 27, De Bruyne's recent new deal sees him earn over $20m for the blue side of Manchester.
29. Cesc Fabregas- $13.2m
The Spanish playmaker is approaching 32, but you could be forgiven for thinking he is much older when you consider that he made his pro debut at only 16. This was thanks to Arsene Wenger, who took him from Barcelona's famed La Maisa Academy and gave him his first taste of first-team soccer at Arsenal.
Now in the last year of his weekly $278,000 contract, it is likely the World Cup winner will pursue a new challenge in 2019.
30. Gareth Bale- $34.6m
Born and raised in Cardiff, Wales, Gareth Bale's rise to the pinnacle of his sport was unexpected, with the Welsh superstar almost being sold by his former club Spurs for being somewhat of a curse following their inability to win when he was involved in the starting line-up. In fact, in his first 24 matches for the club, he failed to register a single win following his £10m move from Southampton.
With time, however, the Welsh maestro settled into London life, and in his penultimate season with the North London outfit, he set the world alight, scoring a spellbinding Champions League hat-trick against Inter Milan in a match that had seen Spurs trail 4-0 at halftime.
The hat-trick served as a springboard for his future style of play which now centers heavily on long-range striking. With current club Real Madrid, he has already won three Champions League trophies following his big-money move from Spurs.
An ever-present thorn in their midfield despite missing many games through injuries, Bale's athletic frame makes him the complete package, with aerial ability, gifted footwork, strength and explosive pace making him almost unstoppable on his day.