Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in world (even if some people call it soccer – we'll forgive them).

It's estimated to reach more than 3.5 billion fans. Cricket is the only one that comes close with 2.5 billion.

With great popularity comes great salary. The numbers have hit surreal heights and the trend does not seem to be slowing down.

Let’s talk about the players who take the sweetest piece of pie. Here is the list of the highest paid football players on the planet in 2023.

Some of these names will undoubtedly surprise you, though…

Highest-paid footballers in the world 2024

1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Al Nassr) - £173 million / year

Cristiano Ronaldo

Over 20 years into his professional career, Ronaldo has become the first man to score in five World Cups. So perhaps it's no surprise he ranks near the top of the list of highest-paid football players in the world.

Back in the summer of 2021, he became the highest-paid player in the history of the English Premier League when he signed a two-year deal with his old club Manchester United. But we all know how that ended.

His recent move to Al Nassr – a result of him having “won everything in Europe" – sees the player earning a staggering $200 million a year making the five-time Ballon d’Or winner the highest-earning football player in the world.

It’s a move from the Portuguese pro that’s caused much debate, but one there’s no denying it’s one hell of a pay day.

2. Neymar Jr (Al Hilal) - £86 million / year

Brazilian superstar Neymar enters the pitch during his unveiling ceremony at Al-Hilal in Riyadh on August 19, 2023 as he becomes the latest world-famous footballer snapped up by the big-spending Saudi Pro League.

Neymar Jr's sensational transfer from PSG to Saudi Arabia side Al Hilal has made the Brazilian the highest paid footballer in the world – and by some margin. 

His £86m salary doesn't take into account his commercial income, which will boost his annual earnings to staggering heights. 

Plus Neymar will enjoy a host of benefits from his Saudi employers: including a fleet of supercars, a private jet, a mansion with its own swimming pool and we imagine a fairly relaxed approach to the Brazilian's famous party lifestyle. 

His career may ultimately have been one of underachievement on the pitch but in terms of salary, Neymar is a history maker. Not only the highest paid footballer in the world but the highest paid footballer of all time. 

3. Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) – £85 million / year

Karim Benzema acknowledges the fans as they are presented to the crowd during the Karim Benzema Official Reception event at King Abdullah Sports City on June 08, 2023 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

During their time at Real Madrid, Karim Benzema inevitably played in the shadow of Ronaldo – and although the pair ply their trade for different clubs in Saudi Arabia, the Portuguese legend still has the edge on salary – just.

On the pitch, Benzema might prove more successful – not only is the French striker three years younger than Ronaldo, his club Al-Ittihad are the current champions of Saudi Arabia. Indeed Al-Ittihad are widely considered the most successful team in Saudi history.

The addition of the brilliant Benzema should make them favourites to retain the title next season. Al-Ittihad are paying Benzema £85 million a year so the club will expect results.

4. KYLIAN MBAPPE (PSG) - £62 million / year

Paris Saint-Germain's French forward Kylian Mbappe celebrates scoring his team's third goal during the French L1 football match between Strasbourg RC and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at La Meinau stadium in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 29, 2022

PSG used to be the biggest spenders in the world but the French giants are swamped by the money from the Middle East. Still, PSG still know how to spend a buck or two. 

Interestingly, it is still not enough for the Parisians to win UEFA Champions League. Nevertheless, Kylian Mbappe previously had the top spot for highest paid footballer in the world when he signed his contract with PSG.

Despite frequently stating his desire to play for Real Madrid, Mbappe opted against joining the Spanish giants and instead committed his future to Paris in a deal that apparently gives him control over coaching appointments and player recruitment.

However a move to Madrid looks a near certainty either this summer or next.

5. Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) – £55 million / year 

Argentine superstar Lionel Messi poses for a photo with Jorge Mas, one of the owners of Inter Miami, Former British football player and one of the owners of Inter Miami David Beckham, Jose R. Mas, one of the owners of Inter Miami, and his jersey during t

Lionel Messi is arguably the greatest footballer in history and naturally his salary reflects his status. 

However Messi took a paycut from his mammoth PSG deal when he moved to MLS and Inter Miami. He also turned down a huge offer from the Saudi league to head to the United States. 

Messi will comfortably be the highest paid player in MLS and also stands to make millions in commercial deals. Plus he gets to hang out with David Beckham. What's not to like? 

6. Riyad Mahrez ( Al Ahli) – £45 million / year

Riyad Karim Mahrez of Al-Ahli SFC during the Match Day 11 of the SAFF Roshn Saudi Pro League 2023-24 between Al-Hilal SFC vs Al-Ahli SFC at King Fahd International Stadium on October 27, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Riyad Mahrez will always have a place in Premier League folklore as the star player of Leicester City's incredible 2016 Premier League triumph. 

His subsequent move to Manchester City might have proved a little less romantic but we imagine the Algerian attacker doesn't care in the slightest when considering his trophy cabinet. 

A move to Saudi Arabia and Al Ahli was the natural next step for a player who won it all in the English game. 

7. Sadio Mané (Al Nassr) – £35 million / year

Sadio Mane of Al-Nassr FC in action during the Match Day 3 of the AFC Champions League 2023-24 Group E between Al-Nassr FC (KSA) and Al Duhail SC (QAT) at Al Awwal Park on October 24, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Like Mahrez, Sadio Mané is a thrilling forward who flourished at a smaller Premier League club, moved to a giant and won every trophy going before decamping to Saudi Arabia in 2023. 

For Mané the relevant journey went Southhampton to Liverpool to Al Nassr where he links up with Ronaldo in a strike partnership that would have been the world's greatest five years earlier. 

The Senegalese striker will always have the affection of Liverpool fans for his role in their Premier League and Champion League triumphs alongside Mo Salah and Robert Firmino. 

8. Jordan Henderson (Al Ettifaq) – £34m million / year

Jordan Henderson of Al Ettifaq FC during their Round 16 of the SAFF Saudi Arabia KingÕs Cup 2023-24 match between Al Nassr FC and Al Ettifaq FC at Al Awwal Park Stadium on October 31, 2023 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Jordan Henderson is another Liverpool legend who left for the Saudi league in the summer of 2023. 

However the Englishman's move generated heavy criticism due to his of-stated support of LGBTQ rights – with many feeling betrayed by his move to Saudi Arabia. 

Henderson is now the highest paid English footballer in history and still has hopes of making the Euro 2024 squad. Whether that salves the damage to his reputation, only he knows.    

9. Oscar (Shanghai SIPG) – £30 million / year

Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior of Shanghai SIPG FC celebrates a score during the AFC Champions League 2017 Group F match between Shanghai SIPG FC (CHN) and FC Seoul (KOR) at the Shanghai Stadium on 26 April 2017 in Shanghai, China

Eyebrows were raised when Oscar moved to China in 2016 with the peak of his career still to come. 

However, it's been estimated that the Brazilian earned more than three times his salary at Shanghai than he would have done at the Blues.

Yes, he might have lost out on a more high-profile career but we imagine the private island he probably owns will ease the balm of missing out on the bigger trophy cabinet. 

10. Kalidou Koulibaly (Al Hilal) – £30 million / year 

Hilal's Senegalese defender Kalidou Koulibaly looks on during the 2023 Arab Club Champions Cup group B football match between Libya's Al-Ahli Tripoli and Saudi Arabia's Al-Hilal at the Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Stadium in Abha on July 27, 2023.

Yes, we're back in Saudi Arabia. Senegalese centre back Kalidou Koulibaly moved from Chelsea to Al Hilal in 2023 and will pick up a handy £30m a year for his services. 

Koulibaly never really got going at Stamford Bridge after a brilliant eight year stint at Naples. (He's far from the only Chelsea flop in recent times.) 

Still in his early 30s, the defender might have more to offer at the highest level but you can't blame Koulibaly for getting that paycheck before his retirement. 

11. Harry Kane (Bayern Munich) – £21 million / year 

Munich, Germany. 08th Nov, 2023. Soccer: Champions League, Bayern Munich - Galatasaray Istanbul, Group stage, Group A, Matchday 4, Allianz Arena. Munich's Harry Kane celebrates after his goal to make it 1:0.

One of English football's most enduring partnerships ended when Harry Kane left Tottenham Hotspur for German giants Bayern Munich. 

Despite becoming Tottenham's record goalscorer, Kane was unable to win a trophy at his boyhood club and so departed for Germany in 2023. 

Whether he'll finally get his hands on some silverware remains to be seen but his odds have drastically improved. Now for England glory, Harry.  

12. N'Golo Kante (Al Ittihad) – £21 million / year 

N'Golo Kante of Al-Ittihad runs with the ball during the Saudi Pro League match between Al Raed and Al-Ittihad at King Abdullah Bin Abdualziz Sport City on August 14, 2023 in Hail, Saudi Arabia.

Few had heard of N'Golo Kante when the French defensive midfielder signed with Leicester City in 2015. That soon changed with Kante one of the key players in the most remarkable title win of modern times. 

A big money move to Chelsea followed, with Kante picking up another Premier League title and the Champions League in 2021. He also won the World Cup with France in 2018. Not bad going. 

Now in his 30s, Kante is another player to make big bucks in Saudia Arabia – joining up with his fellow Frenchman Benzema at Al-Ittihad. Expect more trophies to follow for the little fellow with a big heart – and a bank balance swelled to the tune of £21m a year.  

13. Toni Kroos (Real Madrid)– £20.9 million / year

Toni Kroos of Real Madrid celebrates as he scores their second goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Real Madrid CF and SSC Napoli at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on February 15, 2017 in Madrid, Spain.

One of the great midfielders of his generation, rumours abound that Toni Kross will retire when his contract expires at the end of next season. 

If so, the German can reflect on a brilliant career in which he banked millions of dollars and won nearly as many Champions Leagues – plus the World Cup in 2014. 

It'a easy to forget Kroos has a stupendously successful stint at Bayern Munich before joining Real Madrid. 

14. Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) - £20.8 million / year

Kevin de Bruyne of Manchester City celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on March 6, 2022 in Manchester, United Kingdom.

He is arguably the best player in the world right now, and that quality is reflected in a hefty wage packet.

The Belgian midfielder has put his signing on a renewed contract in the summer of 2021. He has put pen to paper to extend loyalty to Manchester City until 2025.

This luxury will cost the Citizens more than $24 million a year, though the exact figure is unknown – and you can be sure to add in a few mil in off-field earnings.

15. Erling Haaland (Manchester City) – £19.5 million / year

Erling Haaland of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his teams second goal during the Premier League match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Etihad Stadium on October 02, 2022 in Manchester, England.

Manchester City’s big signing has lived up to his high expectations after penning a huge deal.

His arrival in 2022 wasn't Haaland’s first taste of Manchester life, as his father played for the Citizens in the early 2000s, a time that spawned a now-famous picture of a young Haaland Jr in a City shirt.

Erling Haaland scored 25 goals in his first 19 Premier League appearances – a staggering record for the game’s next global superstar

Check out our list of the highest-paid female football players.