For a long time, the world’s highest paid footballer has been a battle of status between the two leading players of this generation, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. As one put pen to paper on a new contract and flashed a smile at his ever increasing pay check, the other would inevitably follow shortly after, repeatedly tipping the scales back and forth.
But on Thursday both stars’ latest contracts were blown out of the water when Argentinian Carlos Tevez signed with Chinese Super League club Shanghai Shenhua. The 32-year-old is reportedly set to earn $752,000 a week after arriving from Boca Juniors.
The deal is just the latest demonstration of the huge financial might Chinese soccer now possesses, as shown by this list of the top 10 highest paid football players. The list is of player’s basic salaries and compiled based on media reports.
1. Carlos Tevez – $39.1 million (Shanghai Shenhua)
When Tevez left Champions League finalist Juventus to rejoin his boyhood club Boca Juniors, taking a salary cut in the process, he insisted that “money doesn’t buy happiness.” His return was heralded as a feel-good story, one that countered the increasingly economic element to soccer. Thus, his departure just 18 months later has led some to cry hypocrisy. However, it would be hard to begrudge the former Manchester United and Manchester City forward accepting the sort of deal that he couldn’t have imagined landing on his table in his wildest dreams — one that gives him more than 20 times the salary he was earning in Buenos Aires.
2. Oscar – $25.4 million (Shanghai SIPG)
Having spent this season sitting on the bench at Chelsea, there was little surprise that the Premier League club jumped on the chance to more than double its money on the Brazil international or that he would accept a salary that sent him skyrocketing to the top of the best-paid players in the world. Although he hasn’t been featured of late for Chelsea, the 25-year-old is in the prime of his career, making the deal financed by the Shanghai International Port Group a major statement of intent for the whole of Chinese soccer.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo – $23.2 million (Real Madrid)
Ronaldo’s reign as once again the world’s highest paid player lasted less than two months. It was only in November that he inked a new five-year deal to keep him at Real Madrid until the age of 36, earning a pay rise that he likely thought was well earned just before picking up his fourth Ballon d’Or award. However, he must now deal with a reality in which Tevez, once a teammate of his at Manchester United, now earns almost twice his salary.
4. Gareth Bale – $22.2 million (Real Madrid)
The Welsh forward, who became the world’s most expensive player when signing for Real Madrid from Tottenham in 2013, had a brief reign as the highest paid footballer when he signed a bumper new deal at the end of October. But, with Ronaldo still around, he was never going to remain top dog at the Bernabeu for long.
5. Hulk – $20.3 million (Shanghai SIPG)
Before Oscar arrived this month, Shanghai SIPG made a splash in June by breaking the Asian record transfer fee to land fellow Brazilian Hulk from Russian side Zenit St Petersburg. The 30-year-old forward began his repayment on that investment by scoring five goals in seven games in the run-in to the end of the Chinese season.
6. Lionel Messi – $19.9 million (Barcelona)
Messi has now been locked in negotiations to extend his contract with Barcelona, signed in 2014, for some time. And there is now the prospect that Tevez’s huge deal could impact those negotiations. Certainly, Messi, still widely regarded as the best player on the planet, will feel he is worth more than he currently takes home.
7. Paul Pogba – $18.4 million (Manchester United)
Pogba may have become the most expensive player of all time when he left Juventus to return to Manchester United in the summer, but he has still been lagging way behind in terms of the money he personally pockets from his new contract. Yet, at age 23, if the French midfielder can show he was well worth Manchester United’s investment in him then his salary will be boosted substantially in the coming years.
8. Neymar – $16.73 million (Barcelona)
Neymar was reported to have improved his terms substantially when signing a new contract with Barcelona in October. However, his salary has now been made to look comparatively meager given what has been offered at Real Madrid and in China. As the man perhaps most likely to take the mantle of the world’s best player when Messi and Ronaldo leave the scene, the Brazilian’s representatives will surely be keeping a close eye on those developments.
9. Graziano Pellè – $16.5 million (Shandong Luneng)
Eyebrows aplenty were raised when the 31-year-old Italian striker became one of the highest-paid players in the world shortly after Euro 2016. But plenty of questions were also raised over why a club was spending so heavily on a player who had been something of a journeyman for much of his career and only ever played five games in the prestigious Champions League. Another question is why Pellè would, as it was viewed, give up his ambitions having finally become a fixture in the Italy side. But, again, it would be hard to begrudge a player a huge pay day with what will likely be the last major contract of his career.
10. Wayne Rooney – $15.9 million (Manchester United)
When at the start of 2014, Manchester United offered a then-28-year-old Rooney a five-and-a-half-year contract making him the highest-paid player in Premier League history, it looked like a piece of questionable judgement. Rooney, after all, had already shown signs that his body was failing him following a career that began when he burst onto the scene at the age of 16 and after years of not exactly living the lifestyle of a finely tuned athlete. The club is likely regretting the deal now, with Rooney having been dropped from the team of late. Perhaps a rumored move to China could now be a solution for all parties.