Adolescents dream of playing like athletes; post-adolescents in today’s society merely ache for a similar social media following. Like George Costanza shouted in “Seinfeld,” “I must be liked!” The athletes on this list, especially the ones who specialize in footy, have plenty of supporters.
The annual summer transfer window extravaganza in soccer is incomparable to any other sport, and as players continuously change squads, they penetrate new fan bases. When a club acquires the services of a bona fide star, its fans and media members are eager to hit that follow button, anxious to welcome the player to his new club and witness his reaction tweet. His former club’s fans and media members are curious to know how the player is doing with his new club, and even those devastated by his departure often refrain from clicking the unfollow button. Each player on the list has changed teams at least once, and has added some followers in that regard.
Within and beyond the top five, the most popular twitter athletes are virtually all soccer players. The two most popular clubs are Barcelona and Real Madrid, and several of its current players appear in the top ten. Names six through ten include English striker Wayne Rooney (8.6 Million), Spanish international and Barcelona puppet master on the pitch Andrés Iniesta (8.5 Million), NBA legend and TNT basketball analyst Shaquille O’Neal (8.3 Million), Shakira hubby and Barcelona central defender Gerard Piqué (8.3 Million), and Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso (7.1 Million).
While Charlie Sheen may have the Guinness World Record for fastest to one million followers–he accomplished the feat in 25 hours and 17 minutes–three of the five athletes on this list have a larger cumulative total. Here is a look at the five most famous athletes on twitter.
5: Ronaldinho (@10Ronaldinho) – 9.05 Million
The legendary Ronaldinho’s rise to stardom had much to do with extraordinary technical ability. His move to Barcelona in 2006 turned out to be a match made in heaven. The most storied club in football was desperate for a game-changer. Ronaldinho was transcendent. Barcelona obtained what would soon be the world’s most dazzling player in a move that revolutionized the beautiful game, and revitalized Barca, who dished out the best $40.8 million they’ve ever spent. His invigorating style of play attracted fans from all over the world, each one enamoured by his unique talent. He built an immediate following during his time in Barcelona and his fans have continued to show support on twitter.
Ronaldinho sent shockwaves through the Twittersphere this week when he informed his followers he would be putting his Rio de Janeiro house up for rent at $15,000 a night during the World Cup. The 34-year old hasn’t been making headlines at the World Cup since 2006, but this move should help him get back into the limelight in Brazil.
The next athlete on the list is Ronaldinho’s compatriot, a rising star pegged to be his heir apparent.
4: Neymar (@neymarjr) – 10.6 Million
Ronaldinho’s skill was unmatched during his time in Barca. The same can be said about the next Brazilian on this list.
Neymar was creating buzz as a teenager at Santos, and once renowned clubs came knocking, he jettisoned his small-town club—as Ronaldinho did—for a grander stage, the Camp Nou of Barcelona. The transfer fee was a whopping $118.8 million, and 56,500 fans were present to greet the highly sought 21-year old.
In February of 2013, Neymar had a scuffle with outspoken English midfielder Joey Barton (@Joey7Barton) on Twitter. Barton claimed Neymar was overrated, and his large price tag was far too expensive. Neymar simply responded, “I don’t know who he is.” Barton has continued to tweet out a flurry of critical comments about Neymar even after their tirade, once referring to him as “The Justin Bieber of football.”
3: LeBron James (@KingJames) – 12.9 Million
King James, as his twitter handle indicates, is the lone non-footballer to appear on the list. Though, it is no surprise that a player of his stature has the ability to win a popularity contest.
Prior to the start of the NBA playoffs, James raised eyebrows with a tweet. “My phone just erased everything it had in it and rebooted,” said James. “One of the sickest feelings I’ve ever had in my life!!!” The tweet seems rather harmless, and would not have raised any eyebrows coming from any other athlete. But LeBron just so happens to be a major spokesperson for Samsung. The tweet garnered close to 550 retweets before he realized his mistake and deleted it.
James broke hearts in Cleveland when he announced his “decision” to bolt for South Beach and abandon the team that drafted him first overall in 2003, and the NBA city closest to his hometown of Akron. A four-time NBA MVP, and back-to-back NBA Champion, LeBron is the clear-cut best basketball player on the planet. The man that held that title in the era prior to James entering the league was the electrifying Michael Jordan. It would have been interesting to see which of the two would have had a greater social media following had MJ played in James’ era.
LeBron momentarily put an end to any Jordan comparisons when he posted a tweet in February of 2013. “I’m not MJ, I’m LJ,” explained James. That tweet was the fourth most popular among athletes in 2013, hitting over 76,000 retweets.
2: Kaka (@KAKA) – 18.9 Million
Kaka is one of the most beloved players of this generation. He approached the game with class and off the pitch, he has played an instrumental role in the betterment of society. Kaka’s humanitarian efforts have helped him jump into the hearts of fans. He became the youngest ambassador of the UN world food program in 2004, working tirelessly to address the issue of world hunger.
On Twitter, his desire to interact with fans is just as evident. Users are encouraged to follow him, knowing they may get the opportunity to chat with the icon. The 32-year old has infiltrated elite clubs throughout the world, with stints in his home nation of Brazil, Italy, and Spain. He developed into one of the world’s top midfielders in his first trip to Milan, and had fans looking to the skies in despair when he departed for Madrid. In February he took over the AC Milan twitter account and answered fan questions with the hashtag #AskKaka.
1: Cristiano Ronaldo (@Cristiano) – 26.3 Million
The phenomenon that is Cristiano Ronaldo is alive, well and booming. Sure enough, he finds himself atop this list.
The Portuguese winger has helped Madrid build insurmountable leads over opponents in La Liga, and on twitter, he has done just the same. Ronaldo has created a gap of nearly eight million followers between himself and second-place Kaka. Cristiano’s transfer from Manchester to Madrid in 2009, and LeBron’s switch from Cleveland to Miami in 2010 were the two most publicized moves of the decade–first names suffice when discussing the two.
In July of 2013, Ronaldo took to Twitter to inform the world that he had officially eclipsed the 20 million follower mark. “Hey guys, #weare20million now! Thanks so much for your support, said Ronaldo. Stay tuned to win some special prizes.” Popularity and monetary benefit go hand in hand. Ronaldo’s current contract with Spanish giants Real Madrid pays him $28.6 million annually, making him the world’s highest-paid footballer.