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 2023

1. Neymar Jr (Al Hilal) - £240 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 £240m salary doesn't take into account his commercial income, which will boost his annual earnings to well above £300m. 

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. 

2. 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.

3. Karim Benzema (Al-Ittihad) – £172 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 $222m dollars a year so the club will expect results.

4. KYLIAN MBAPPE (PSG) - £100 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. N'Golo Kante (Al Ittihad) – £86 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 £86m a year.  

6. Lionel Messi (Inter Miami) – £42 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? 

7. Frenkie De Jong (Barcelona) – £32 million / year 

Frenkie de Jong of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring their team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Knockout Round Play-Offs Leg Two match between SSC Napoli and FC Barcelona at Stadio Diego Armando Maradona on February 24, 2022 in Naples

Frenkie De Jong hasn't set the world on fire since joining Barcelona from Ajax but his bank account has swelled considerably. 

The Dutch midfielder is the highest paid player in La Liga, earning a hefty £32m a year. No wonder he's been reluctant to leave the club. 

Manchester United have been linked with De Jong since the arrival of Eric Ten Haag but the Red Devils will have to open their checkbook – De Jong's Barcelona contract runs until 2026. 

8. 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. 

9. Kalidou Koulibaly (Al Hilal) – £30m / 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. 

10. 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. 

11. 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.

12. 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.