Messi to Al Hilal: The 8 most lucrative contracts in football history
Lionel Messi has been offered the most lucrative contract in the history of football, according to reports.
The Argentinian World Cup winner looks set to depart PSG when his contract expires at the end of the 2022-23 campaign. AFP report that it’s a ‘done deal’ that Messi, 35, will join Saudi club Al-Hilal – a move that would see him reignite his old rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo, who joined Al Nassr in January.
It’s believed that the deal would be worth £522million (€600million) in total. But how would that compare to similar deals signed by the world’s best-paid footballers?
We’ve taken a look at the eight most lucrative contracts in football history. Note: all figures come via French outlet La Parisien.
8. Paul Pogba (Man Utd) – €113m
Five years – 2016-2021
The Carrington academy graduate left United on a free in 2012. He then helped Juventus get back to the top and established himself as one of the best midfielders in Europe in the process.
Having won four successive Scudetto and played in a Champions League final, it was always going to cost United a pretty penny to get him back. Not only was his reported £89million fee a world record, but the contract negotiated for the player by infamous superagent Mino Raiola was one of the most expensive ever seen.
Pogba earned over €100million over the course of the five-year deal he penned on his return in 2016. United activated a one-year extension in the deal and he ended up staying for a sixth year, departing on a free to Juventus for a second time in 2022.
The France international lifted the League Cup and Europa League trophies during his first year back, but since then endured five long and frustrating trophyless seasons. It’s difficult to argue United got their money’s worth, given they invested over £200million on the player all-in.
7. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) – €178m
Six years – 2016-2022
In October 2016, Gareth Bale signed a new contract at Real Madrid that made him the best-paid player in world football.
There was a logic to it at the time; the Welshman’s moments of magic helped deliver two Champions League trophies. A further three – and three La Liga titles – followed that contract renewal, but Los Blancos ultimately saw diminishing returns in his latter years.
It was kind of sad to see Bale as a peripheral squad player by the end of his eight-year stay at the Bernabeu. But those exorbitant wages explain why he stayed until the end of his contract, eventually leaving on a free in 2022.
=5. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) – €220m
Four years – 2018-2022
In the summer of 2018, Juventus had won their seventh Serie A in a row. With Italy well and truly conquered, they set their sights on the next frontier – Europe.
The Old Lady had finished runners-up in the Champions League twice in the preceding years, and the mega-money signing of Ronaldo was thought to be the last piece of the puzzle to take them that next step.
They paid a club-record €117million to sign the Portuguese icon, who was the European Cup’s all-time top scorer and had just lifted Ol’ Big Ears for a fourth time in five years. They also handed him a massive four-year deal worth over €200million.
Ronaldo, inevitably, scored plenty of goals – but things didn’t quite go to plan. They retained the Scudetto in 2018-19 and 2020-21, making it nine in a row, but they went backwards in Europe – being eliminated by Ajax, Lyon and Porto during his three years there.
By 2021, they’d also been knocked off their perch in Italy, crawling to an underwhelming fourth-place finish. Ronaldo left Turin with a year left on his deal, but has remained well-remunerated…
READ: The 10 highest-paid players in the Premier League in 2022-23
=5. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) – €220m
Five years – 2016-2021
A month after Bale’s new deal, Ronaldo followed suit and once again became Los Blancos’ top earner at the Bernabeu by signing a bumper five-year contract extension.
At that point, he was already Madrid’s all-time top goalscorer and allowing him to run down his contract was unthinkable.
But he didn’t stick around to see out the deal, flouncing off to Juventus, having spoken about feeling underappreciated.
“I felt it inside the club, especially from the president, that they no longer considered me the same way that they did in the start,” he said. “In the first four or five years there I had the feeling of being ‘Cristiano Ronaldo’,” he told France Football.
“Less afterwards. The president looked at me through eyes that didn’t want to say the same thing, as if I was no longer indispensable to them, if you know what I mean.”
Madrid got 450 goals out of Ronaldo during his peak years, and turned a profit, selling him at the age of 33. Not bad business, that.
3. Neymar (PSG) – €267m
Six years – 2017-2023
No wonder Neymar left Barcelona, with this kind of cash on the table. That’s on top of the €222million release clause that PSG paid for the Brazilian.
A head-spinning number, all-in.
3. Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nassr) – €507m
After agreeing to terminate his contract with Manchester United six months early, Ronaldo left the European game after two decades to sign for Al Nassr.
The 37-year-old joined the Saudi Pro League club on a two-and-a-half-year deal running until 2025. His basic salary is worth €71million but image rights and commercials deals – not least an added ambassadorial role in Saudi Arabia’s bid for the 2030 World Cup – take it to €203million a year, so over half a billion contract if he sees out his full contract and plays into his forties.
2. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) – €555m
Four years – 2017-2021
Such was Messi’s status, popularity and on-field importance at Barcelona, former president Josep Maria Bartomeu can reasonably argue that he had little choice but to give in to the Argentinian’s wage demands and make him the highest-paid footballer in the world.
But this was just part of the club’s reckless financial mismanagement, which eventually resulted in the whole house of cards falling down, with Lionel Messi saying a tearful goodbye to the only club he’d ever represented in the summer of 2021. Barcelona literally couldn’t afford to keep him, which tells you something about where they went wrong.
1. Kylian Mbappe (PSG) – €630m
Three years – 2022-2025
Mbappe will earn more per year than Bale earned in the entirety of his six-year deal at Madrid. No wonder he stayed put last summer.
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