Fans and supporters of the “Against Modern Football” movement that has swept the world may want to click the “X” button of your browser’s tab right about now. The reality of the situation is that professional football – or soccer depending on where you call home – is big business, bigger than ever before, as of the spring of 2015, and those who are at the top of their games and who are recognized for their performances on the pitch and in other avenues of life are some of the better-paid pro athletes on the planet.
While the majority of the players featured in the Goal.com “Rich List” made their names and the majority of their money featuring in the top European leagues and competitions in the world, three of the superstars either now or soon will call North America home. One will soon be making the switch to the continent’s top-flight league, although that move was heavily scrutinized in multiple countries because of the secrecy that surrounded it. A different man recently linked up with the second division in North America and the most-famous football brand to emerge from the United States, and he is ready to show that he still has some gas left in the tank.
It should come as little surprise to anybody who actively follows the sport on a regular basis that the three biggest names in the sport today all play in what is routinely regarded as the best league in the world. The top two footballers showcased are the best players of their generation, two all-time greats who, fortunately for audiences who can watch in-person and via television and the Internet, still have many years left before they call time on their careers. A third, who could be the world’s next star, is a young player who is still finding his own.
20. John Terry: €56 million ($60.8 million USD)
Terry has been a controversial figure at points of his career, and he was even removed as England captain amid allegations that he had an affair with the girlfriend of a teammate. His more forgettable moments on and off the pitch aside, Terry’s contributions to his country and to Chelsea cannot and rightfully so do not go ignored. He helped guide the club to its latest accomplish, a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup Final, and Terry and the rest of his teammates could go on to win the Premier League this coming spring when all is said and done.
19. Sergio Aguero: €58m ($62.96m USD)
Manchester City could not possibly ask for much more from the Argentine striker. Aguero scored what has been referred to as the most famous goal in the history of the club back on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, netting the match-winner that secured the league title for City. That was not to be his final memorable contribution for the club, and City has since rewarded him with an impressive contract extension. The 26-year-old has been well worth the money for the blue side of Manchester over the years, and some have argued that, with Luis Suarez now playing in Spain, it is Aguero who is now the most talented striker in the Premier League.
18. Gerard Pique: €58m ($62.96m USD)
A center back in his prime who features for Barcelona and the Spain Men’s National Team. A champion who has hoisted club trophies all over the world. An international star who has won the FIFA World Cup and the UEFA European Championship. Multiple personal honors to his name. A recording artist and model known around the world, Shakira, for a significant other. A model in his own right who also has other deals. You could do a lot worse in the game of life than the existence that Pique has cut out for himself, and at 28-years old, his fun is just getting started.
17. Francesco Totti: €60m ($65.13m USD)
There are players who leave lasting memories for fan bases before moving on to the next stages of their careers. Some, in the process, even win titles and personal awards. Then, there is Mr. Totti, who has spent 23 – count ’em – 23 years in the Roma first team. That feat makes him the longest-serving one club player who is still active. Having turned 38 years old in September of 2014, even Totti can only have so much left before the respected businessman will have to walk away to his real estate companies. Then again, Totti has a history of turning the clock back. Maybe he is ageless.
16. Franck Ribery: €61m ($66.22m USD)
Ribery may be the least-appreciated footballer of all of the players featured in the Goal.com list. While he has been recognized as an athlete on-par with the likes of Messi and Ronaldo, fans and also the media rarely put him in the same class as those players. The 31-year-old can be a frustrating player from time to time in that he lets his emotions run away from him, but nobody can take away that he more often than not leaves it all out on the pitch each time that he plays. Ribery, known as the “Jewel of French Football,” should not be taken for granted by anybody.
15. Yaya Toure: €62m ($67.3m USD)
There may be no player in the English Premier League who has a greater importance to his club than Toure. The midfielder is the on-pitch heart and soul of Manchester City, and the team is not the same whenever Toure is banged up or suffering from fatigue because of African Cup of Nations duty. There were rumors in 2013 that PSG and other clubs were exploring signing Toure, but City avoided losing the key man when they signed him to an extension. His relationship with City has been an up-and-down roller coaster according to reports, and he could consider leaving the team during the summer transfer window.
14. Steven Gerrard: €64m ($69.47m USD)
Gerrard has seen it all and he has done it all, and just as importantly as everything that he has done while with Liverpool is the fact that he has done it with class. Gerrard may very well be the most respected player in all of the English Premier League, and the veteran netted what may be the final massive contract of his career when he signed for Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy. Gerrard will join the defending MLS champions following the conclusion of the Premier League campaign, and he will link up with a familiar face; striker Robbie Keane.
13. Gigi Buffon: €66m ($71.64m USD)
Here is a sobering thought for football fans from all over the world: We will never again see Buffon play in a World Cup. It is a little odd to think that Buffon has played for Juventus for only 13 years, as it seems as if he has been with the club since the 1990s. The 37-year-old has shown his age during the current Serie A campaign in that he is no longer the super-human athlete and the best goalkeeper in the game. Buffon can certainly still go at an elite level, but his days of being able to start for the best club in Serie A are quickly coming to an end. It is rumored that Buffon could leave Juventus this coming summer.
12. Rio Ferdinand: €72m ($78.16m USD)
Ferdinand made his name and expanded his brand while featuring for the England National Team and also for Manchester United, the club where he played for ten years. The defender who turned 36 years old this past November has since moved on to Queens Park Rangers after reportedly turning down a switch to Major League Soccer, and all indications are that Ferdinand will not play for a club outside of England before he calls time on his career. Ferdinand has also wisely invested in property in London and in the Caribbean, and he is an ambassador for multiple noteworthy and recognizable brands.
11. Bastian Schweinsteiger: €75m ($81.41m USD)
The midfielder has quietly become the captain of what is currently the most dominant side in world football. Schweinsteiger replaced Philipp Lahm as the captain for Germany, and the midfielder has been a mainstay for Bayern Munich for years. The 30-year-old features for what has become the one true dynasty of the Bundesliga, and he hoisted the FIFA World Cup in the summer of 2014. There are rumors out there that Schweinsteiger could be ready to leave Bayern once his contract runs out in 2016, and he could make a switch to the Premier League or even to Major League Soccer.
10. Frank Lampard: €80m ($86.84m USD)
What exactly happened in the saga involving Lampard, Manchester City and New York City Football Club remains somewhat of a mystery to those of us on the outside, but the perception is that NYCFC fans who believed Lampard would be with the Major League Soccer side in March 2015 were lied to. Lampard reportedly never had any intention of linking up with the MLS club until the end of the Premier League season, and thus the NYCFC fans were, according to the stories, led astray. Lampard will become a MLS player at some point during the summer months.
9. Ronaldinho: €83 ($90.10m USD)
It is somewhat difficult to come up with new things to say about the Brazilian legend. Everything that could possibly be said about Ronaldinho has already been said. He has achieved all that one could hope to achieve in the worlds of club and international football, and every year that he remains an active player in the game is a gift to fans who get to see him in action. Major League Soccer dropped the ball several years ago when the North American top-flight did not acquire him when the league had an opportunity to do so. He would have been a star who moved merchandise and who sold tickets regardless of whatever team he joined.
8. Raul: €85m ($92.27m USD)
Gone are the days of Raul featuring for some of the top clubs in the world, but those of you who may believe that he has ridden off into the sunset are mistaken. He reportedly eyed a move to Major League Soccer before ultimately linking up with North American Soccer League New York Cosmos, even though he had offers to return to Europe and to work for Real Madrid. Raul is scheduled to play up front for the North American second-tier side, but his most important contributions to the Cosmoas could be what he offers as the head of the club’s youth academy.
7. Samuel Eto’o: €87m ($94.99m USD)
Eto’o is worthy of plenty of praise and credit for having incredibly intelligent individuals working in his camp. The veteran striker has netted massive contracts throughout his career, even at points when it appeared that he was long past his prime, and Eto’o recently landed a switch from Premier League side Everton to Serie A club Sampdoria. Whispers among so-called transfer experts indicate that Eto’o has not yet put pen to paper on his final lucrative football contract. He has been linked with moves to Major League Soccer and also to North American Soccer League side New York Cosmos.
6. Kaka: €96m ($104.21m USD)
Gone are the days of Kaka being a footballer worthy of winning the Ballon d’Or, but the veteran who earned a boatload of money at Real Madrid before making an exodus from the Spanish giants to link up with AC Milan is once again getting paid and in a big way. Orlando City Soccer Club have made Kaka the highest-paid player in Major League Soccer, and the expansion club of the North American top-flight will hope that the Brazilian international will do more than sell tickets. OCSC want to win MLS Cup in year one, and they very well may have the goods to make a run.
5. Wayne Rooney: €103m ($111.81m USD)
Rooney may no longer be the best forward, when he plays that role, in England – that distinction now goes to Tottenham Hotspur front man Harry Kane – but the Manchester United star remains one of the most recognizable footballers and athletes in the world. He is front and center in an international campaign for Chevrolet, the company that is the shirt sponsor for the most-followed English Premier League club in the world, and Rooney also has endorsement deals with several other organizations. His time with United may soon come to an end, as he is being linked with big-money clubs PSG and Monaco.
4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic: €105m ($113.98m USD)
No footballer on the planet – not Gareth Bale or Neymar or Messi or Ronaldo – have made themselves an Internet sensation as has Ibrahimovic. The #DareToZlatan hashtag became a Twitter mainstay during World Cup qualification, and it continues to be used on that platform and also on Instagram and Tumblr. It also doesn’t hurt that Ibrahimovic is a wonder to behold a striker. He is capable of hitting highlight-reel strikes from difficult angles and distances seemingly with ease. Ibra recently invested in an apartment block in Manhattan. Is somebody eying a move to Major League Soccer?
3. Neymar family: €135m ($146.54m USD)
The first name that pops into the mind of an American football fan upon thinking of Neymar is LeBron James. Both had unrealistic expectations placed upon them when they were but teenagers, and yet both athletes have met and possibly even exceeded such predictions. Neymar’s abilities on and off of the ball are electric, and the experience that he is going to get while playing alongside one of the best to ever take the pitch should make the Brazilian megastar an even better overall player. Barcelona will, in the future, get to move on from Messi to Neymar. You don’t get much better than that.
2. Lionel Messi: €200m ($217.1m USD)
Injuries slowed Messi down during the 2013-14 campaign, but the man who is often said to be “magisterial” by the incomparable Ray Hudson remains one of the true legends of his sport. Messi is, when fully fit and at his best, one of the greatest footballers of his generation, an absolute joy to watch even for those who do not consider themselves to be diehard fans of the game. There are some who split their loyalties between either Messi or the man who sits atop this list. Don’t be silly. Just enjoy watching the two do what they do best for as long as you possibly can.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo: €210m ($227.95m USD)
Ronaldo has, over the past couple of years, leapfrogged his main club rival and cemented himself as the best footballer in the world. Along with a Real Madrid contract that reportedly earns him over €18 million per year, Ronaldo is nearly as famous off of the pitch as he is on it, the second coming of David Beckham in that he does not have to even be associated with the game of football to be recognized all over the globe these days. He is an advertising partner for a wide variety of organizations, and he has also appeared in television and print advertisement with living legends such as Pele. It is Ronaldo’s world in 2015.
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