Who Are Football’s Highest Paid Players?

Let’s be honest, the money in football is obscene. It has now got to the point where it’s impossible to think of it as real money. It’s like a weird, sporting version of Monopoly where players can buy all of the properties, the board you’re playing on, the house you’re playing in and the neighbourhood surrounding it. We have become so accustomed to the insanity of the money in the game that we happily say things such as, “He’s not worth £30 million” as though we’re talking about Panini stickers.

But how did it get this far? What has influenced the amount of money that players are paid over the years and who are the highest paid players in the land? Not all of those questions are easy to answer, of course, but we’ll try our hardest to give you some clue about how we went from football being a game that local lads played in the park with their mates to a sport that makes multi-millionaires out of even the most sparsely of talented players.

History of Football Wages

Jimmy Hill
Jimmy Hill, Advocate of scrapping the minimum wage - By Timmy96 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

To understand how players wages have developed over the years you’ve got to take a trip through history, starting in 1885. That was when the Football Association announced that clubs could employ professional footballers and pay them a wage as long as they had been born in or lived within six miles of the ground for two years.

In 1893 it was proposed by Derby County that players should be paid a maximum of £4 per week. It didn’t pass then, but the rule was imposed for the start of the 1901-1902 season. This led some players, who were earning as much as £10 per week, to abandon the Football League in favour of the Southern League, which had no such restrictions. After the First World War the FA decided to increase the maximum wage to £10.

Over the following few decades the maximum wage dropped but then increased exponentially. It was £14 in 1951, £15 in 19553, £17 in 1957 and rose to £20 in 1958. Well-known football television personality and Match of the Day presenter Jimmy Hill was the President of the Professional Footballer’s Association and campaigned to have any notion of a maximum wage scrapped; something which he archived in January of 1961. His Fulham teammate and the captain of England, Johnny Haynes, became the first player to be paid £100 per week.

Once the notion of a maximum wage was scrapped it became only a matter of time before the money paid to footballers would reach silly levels. Football has long been the national game in England and as long as thousands of people wanted to watch it then clubs would want to attract the very best players they could. When Nottingham Forest became the first team to buy a player for £1 million upon signing Trevor Francis in 1979, they also made Peter Shilton the best paid player in the country on £1200 per week.

By 1994 that had risen by nearly ten times, as Chris Sutton signed for Blackburn and was paid £10,000 per week. The following year the Bosman ruling declared that out-of-contract players could move free outside the duration of their contract and so they were able to demand even higher wages. By 2001 Sol Campbell was able to demand £100,000 per week to play for Arsenal. In 2010 Carlos Tevez became the first player to earn £1 million per month, or £286,000 per week, when he signed for Manchester City.

Highest Paid Players 2021/22

Now that we know how wages grew and grew rapidly, we can have a look at the best paid players in Europe and beyond. The thing to bear in mind here is that these wages are based on the 2021-2022 season and are in a constant state of flux. China is investing heavily in football and players are being paid vast sums of money to play over there, so expect this to change quickly. It’s also worth bearing in mind that players earn a lot more than just their wage thanks to image deals with sports companies and so on, so wages are not a player's only income.

PlayerClubWeekly WageYearly Wage
Lionel Messi Barcelona £960,000 £49.9 million
Neymar PSG £606,000 £31.5 million
Luis Suarez Atletico Madrid £575,000 £29.9 million
Gareth Bale Real Madrid £500,000 £26 million
Kylian Mbappe PSG £410,000 £21.3 million
Kevin De Bruyne Manchester City £400,000 £21 million
Cristiano Ronaldo Manchester United £385,000  £20 million
Eden Hazard Real Madrid £381,000 £19.9 million
David De Gea Manchester United £375,000 £19.5 million
 David Alaba Real Madrid £359,000 £18.6 million
Antoine Griezmann Barcelona £356,000 £18.5 million
Robert Lewandowski Bayern Munich £350,000 £18.2 million
Jadon Sancho Manchester United £350,000 £18.2 million
Raphel Varane Manchester United £340,000 £17.6 million
Romelu Lukaku Chelsea £325,000 £16.9 million

You’ll notice that a lot of the players tend to play for the same clubs. That’s because they’re the only ones rich enough to pay the players the wages they demand. Often players will also have clauses in their contract saying that they must be the highest paid player at a club, so if a club sign someone on the same wage as their ‘star’ then said star’s pay packet must receive an increase.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the average wage for Premier League players is £3.96 million per year, or roughly £205,000 per week - back in 2015 it was £1.7 million per year or roughly £39,500 per week so you can see how quickly it has grown. They may not make it onto this list, but even the average footballer doesn’t do too badly in the grand scheme of things…