Former FC Barcelona forward Lionel Messi is listed as the highest paid footballer in the world, according to a list compiled by Forbes.

The six-time Ballon D’or winner, with earnings estimated at USD 130 million, sits ahead of long-time rival and Juventus striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who raked in USD 120 million in the past year.

Messi was a trending topic for the majority of 2020, from his criticism of former sporting director Eric Abidal to putting in a transfer request after Barcelona’s 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. However, the transfer saga ended in September after the Argentine confirmed that he wouldn’t take the ‘club of his life’ to court.

On the other hand, Cristiano Ronaldo recently lost out on a third successive Serie A title with Juventus after winning the Scudetto in his first two seasons. Additionally, the Portuguese legend has also aggregated 100 career goals for the Turin-based club.

How long have Messi and Ronaldo been rivals? 

The Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo rivalry has spanned over 13 years, after the players first rubbed shoulders at the 2007 FIFA Ballon D’or ceremony. The legendary attackers clashed for the first time in the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League semi-final. Eventually, Ronaldo went on to win the European showpiece event and won the Ballon D’or in 2008 before his departure to Real Madrid.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s fierce rivalry was at its peak during Ronaldo’s nine-year career as a Galactico. The players share 11 Ballon D’or awards and nine UEFA Champions Leagues between them.

Who earns more salary between Messi and Ronaldo?

Lionel Messi is the world's wealthiest footballer, with his earnings majorly stemming from his contract with his former club Barcelona. The Argentine earned USD 97 million as part of on-the-field earnings, while the remaining 33 million came from his endorsement deals with Adidas and Budweiser. According to Forbes, however, his PSG contract is worth a whopping USD 130 million per year in salary, bonus and a cut of player rights including jersey sales alone.

Cristiano Ronaldo, on the flip side, is commercially richer than his nemesis. Ronaldo’s USD 120 million earnings can be bifurcated into 70 million on-the-field earnings and 50 million from Nike and his CR7 brand of apparel and perfumes. Additionally, the five-time UCL winner is the first footballer to cross 500 million followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In terms of athletes worldwide, mixed martial artist Conor McGregor tops the list of the highest paid athletes in 2021 at USD 180 million.

How does Forbes calculate the earnings of athletes?

Forbes, the American business magazine, calculates an athlete’s earnings taking into consideration his on-the-field and off-the-field profits.

On-the-field earnings include all prize money, salaries, and bonuses availed by the athlete over 12 months. As far as off-the-field earnings are concerned, the figures are tallied as an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees, licensing income, and profits from the athletes’ own businesses.

Highest-paid athletes 2021

Athlete Name Sport Earnings Value
Conor McGregor MMA USD 180 million
Lionel Messi Soccer USD 130 million
Cristiano Ronaldo Soccer USD 120 million
Dak Prescott American Football USD 107.5 million
LeBron James Basketball USD 96.5 million

Highest-paid football players 2021

Athlete Name Earnings Value Overall Ranking
Lionel Messi USD 130 million 2
Cristiano Ronaldo USD 120 million 3
Neymar USD 95 million 6

Featured photo: AFP / Franck Fife