Soccer is consistently classified as the most popular sport across the globe. In fact, FIFA reported that the in-home audience per live match averaged 186.7 million during the last World Cup, held in 2014. To compare, NBC estimated that the Rio Olympics total audience delivery averaged 27.5 million viewers for competition nights.

Forbes has published their annual list of the 100 highest-paid athletes. Soccer players were the fourth most prevalent athletes on this list. These are the top five highest-paid soccer players of 2018.

1. Lionel Messi

Luis Lionel Andres “Leo” Messi is an Argentinian soccer player. The FC Barcelona forward is the highest-paid soccer player, earning $111 million, taking home $84 million in salary and winnings along with $27 million in endorsements. He is also the second highest paid athlete in the world.

When he was 13, Messi moved to Spain after FC Barcelona agreed to pay for his medical treatments. He eventually led the club to championships. In 2012, he set a record for most goals in a calendar year, and in 2016, he was honored as Europe's Ballon d'Or winner for the fifth time. In November 2017, he agreed to a contract extension with Barcelona to stay with the club through 2020-21. The contract outlines that he will be paid an annual salary and bonus of at least $80 million.

As far as endorsements, he has a lifetime deal with Adidas. Other deals include Gatorade, Pepsi, and Huawei. A Messi theme park, called Messi Experience Park, is scheduled to open in 2020 in Nanjing, China.

 

2. Cristiano Ronaldo

Forbes ranked Cristiano Ronaldo as the second highest-paid soccer player in 2018, as he made $61 million in salary and winnings from Real Madrid and $47 million in endorsements, for a whopping total of $108 million. The 33-year-old Portuguese athlete has been a forward on the Real Madrid and Portugal National Teams.

Although Ronaldo exited the 2018 World Cup early, he remained in the public eye when news broke that he transferred to Juventus on a four-year deal. The transfer fee totaled 112 million euros ($131 million). Ronaldo will reportedly be paid 120 million euros ($140 million) for the duration of his contract. The impact the transfer will have on his total earnings remains unclear. 

Ronaldo scored 44 goals in 43 matches this past season, and was honored with a fifth Ballon d'Or. He also won his fifth Champions League title. His current contract with Real Madrid is set to pay him over $50 million for the next three years. 

Ronaldo has a lifetime contract with Nike Inc. (NKE) worth over $1 billion. His other deals include Herbalife and EA Sports. He has a line of CR7 branded products including shoes, fragrance, and a children's line. He is the most popular athlete in the world with 322 million social media followers.

 

3. Neymar Jr.

Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior, who is almost exclusively called by just his first name, is the third highest-paid soccer player, making $90 million. Of that, he makes $73 million in salary and winnings and $17 million from endorsements. In August 2017, Neymar signed a five-year contract with Paris Saint-Germain.

The Brazilian forward works with global sponsors including Nike, Red Bull, and McDonalds. He was the first soccer player to have his own custom Air Jordan sneakers made by the Swoosh.

4. Gareth Bale

Making $34.6 million, Gareth Bale clocks in as the fourth highest-paid soccer player. He earns $28.6 million through salary and winnings, along with $6 million from endorsements.

The Real Madrid forward is originally from Wales. In May 2018, Bale scored two goals, including an iconic bicycle kick, to lead his team to a third consecutive Champions League title. In October 2016, he signed a contract extension with the club through June 2022. Bale has an endorsement deal with Adidas through 2020.

5. Paul Pogba

Paul Pogba is the fifth highest paid soccer player, making $29.5 million, consisting of the $25 million he makes through salary and winnings and the $4.5 million he earns from endorsements.

Originally from France, Pogba plays midfield for Manchester United. His five-year contract guarantees he is paid an annual salary of at least $20 million.

Pogba has a 10-year deal with Adidas.

 

(Image source: Cristiano Ronaldo's Twitter account)

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