Even with all the controversy surrounding this year’s event in Qatar, the World Cup is still regularly among the most thrilling events in soccer. It only happens once every four years, so there’s a sense of scarcity around the tournament. We also tend to get all kinds of emotional stories; this year delivered with Japan’s 2-1 thrilling victory over Spain, which came complete with a replay-reversed goal.
The World Cup also allows players to represent their home countries. A player like Lionel Messi, who has previously played for teams in Spain and France, now wears Argentinian colors as he tries to help his nation win a title.
While national pride is on the line, there’s also some money to be earned. FIFA will award $440 million in prize money during the 2022 World Cup; the winning country will walk away with $42 million. What the country does with that money can vary. In 2018, France won the top World Cup prize ($38 million) and dished out $11 million of it to 23 players, giving each a $480,000 cut.
The 2022 Qatar World Cup features some big names and equally big salaries. Here is a look at the highest earners during this year’s event based on their expected 2022-23 season salaries and endorsements. And all five of their countries — France, Argentina, Portugal, Brazil, and Poland — reached the Round of 16, giving hope for a happy ending to the tournament.
The 5 Highest Paid Players at the World Cup
#5: Robert Lewandowski — $35 million
Casual soccer fans may not know the name Robert Lewandowski, yet he’s had an impressive season after joining FC Barcelona on a $45 million transfer. He’s scored a goal per game in 18 contests. The bulk of his earnings come from his salary (about $27 million), though he has some impressive endorsement deals, too.
The 34-year-old Polish star has been an ambassador for consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble since 2014 and sports drink company Oshee since 2018. He’s also appeared on an EA Sports cover and has a long-standing deal with Nike for his football boots. However, Lewandowski severed ties with Chinese tech brand Huawei earlier this year.
Put them all together, and the top five players are on track to earn more than $450 million, with about 38% of those earnings coming from off-the-field endorsements and sponsorships. It’s a great reminder that even if salary caps or stingy owners try and limit what a player can make from a soccer roster, the sky is the limit when these athletes look outside the pitch.
#4: Neymar Júnior — $87 million
Neymar will only turn 31 in February, but the star footballer has dropped hints that this could be his final World Cup. He suffered an injury during the early stages of Qatar 2022, so he may have to be a spectator for future matches. That won’t stop him from making a ton of money both on and off the pitch. He’s earning $55 million from Paris Saint-Germain and will make another $32 million from his endorsement deals.
Since he was 17 years old, Neymar has had sponsorship deals, and his portfolio of partners has only grown. He has partnerships with Puma, Volkswagen, Claro, Unilever, and Santander, among others. He’s also worked with DAZN on a documentary series and has appeared in several movies and TV shows (often playing himself — not the most challenging role, but still).
In his career, Neymar has accomplished something only two other players have done: score 100 goals for three different clubs. A fourth likely isn’t in his future, but it would be a spectacular feat if he ends up pulling it off down the road.
#3: Cristiano Ronaldo — $100 million
Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi have been inextricably linked for just about their entire careers, so it’s fitting that they’re next to each other on the highest earners list. Like Messi, Ronaldo has earned more than $1 billion during his prestigious career, though this could be one of his last hurrahs. He turns 38 in February and just got dumped by his former club, Manchester United. Or maybe he’ll bounce back stronger than ever — allegedly, he received a Saudi contract offer that would pay him double what Michael Jordan made over his entire career.
Despite the on-field turbulence, Ronaldo continues a strong presence away from the pitch. A whopping 60% of his earnings this year — $60 million — will come from his endorsement deals, which include Nike, Livescore, Herbalife, and his own line of merch and lifestyle products. Ronaldo signed a deal this summer with Binance, the crypto exchange that’s in the news lately for backing out of a deal to buy FTX, which now appears to be dead in the water. And Ronaldo has about half a billion followers on Instagram, so sponsored posts are another easy way to rack up extra earnings.
#2: Lionel Messi — $120 million
At 35, Leo Messi is a dozen years older than Mbappé. He’s earned even more lucrative sponsorship deals, with nearly half of his money in 2022-23 ($55 million) coming from endorsements.
Messi could reclaim top-earning honors, too. He appears to be on the verge of signing the most lucrative deal in MLS history, which would bring him to the United States and give him a 35% ownership stake in Inter Miami of the MLS. Combining a World Cup victory with that deal could lead to a ton of extra money. It’ll be his last opportunity to win a World Cup title — he’s already said 2022 Qatar is his final run at an elusive championship.
#1: Kylian Mbappé — $128 million
Kylian Mbappé is only 23 years old, but he’s the biggest earner in soccer. That’s largely thanks to a combined $110 million salary and signing bonus from Paris Saint-Germain, though Mbappé has a nice portfolio of endorsement and sponsorship deals. He’s partnered with Nike, Oakley, Panini, and Dior, among others, and is the face of EA Sports’ FIFA 23 video game series.
This World Cup could prove particularly lucrative for Mbappé. He was a mere 19 years old when France won in 2018, and now, he’s the most recognizable player on the team. If he’s able to lead his country to a repeat, it would equal a nice payday from the World Cup victory. It would also open up more doors for sponsorship opportunities, and Mbappé would be able to cash in.