Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi? Forbes reveals the money GOAT on athletes’ rich list

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scarfs for sale. Picture: Carl Recine/Reuters

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo scarfs for sale. Picture: Carl Recine/Reuters

Published May 4, 2023


London - Cristiano Ronaldo became the world's highest-paid athlete after his move to Saudi Arabian side Al-Nassr nearly doubled his annual playing salary while Paris St Germain duo Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe round off the top three, according to Forbes.

Ronaldo, who joined the Saudi soccer club on a deal until 2025 after leaving Manchester United last year, earned $136 million with Forbes saying his annual playing salary went up to an estimated $75 million.

Ronaldo's contract has been estimated by media to be worth more than 200 million euros ($219.98 million).

PSG forward Messi, 35, was next on the list after bringing home a combined $130 million while club team mate and France captain Mbappe -- the youngest on the list at 24 -- earned $120 million to sit third.

PSG are owned by Qatar Sports Investments.

Los Angeles Lakers player and NBA great LeBron James ($119.5 million) and Mexican boxer Canelo Alvarez ($110 million) rounded out the top five.

Last year also saw the advent of LIV Golf, the breakaway tour that has lured away some of the U.S.-based PGA Tour's top players with huge sums of money, and two of its golfers make the top 10.

Former world number one Dustin Johnson (sixth with $107 million) made the biggest gain after making the controversial switch to LIV Golf having not even made the cut for the top 50 in 2022 while he was joined by fellow LIV golfer Phil Mickelson (seventh with $106 million).

Four-times NBA champion Stephen Curry ($100.4 million) and Phoenix Suns' Kevin Durant ($89.1 million) are the other two basketball players on the list.

Former tennis ace Roger Federer ($95.1 million) is the only retired player in the top 10.

Forbes said its on-field earnings figures include all prize money, salaries and bonuses earned in the last 12 months while off-field earnings are an estimate of sponsorship deals, appearance fees, licensing income and cash returns from businesses they operate.

World's top 10 highest paid athletes 2023

1. Cristiano Ronaldo, football: $136 million

2. Lionel Messi, football: $130m

3. Kylian Mbappe, football: $120m

4. LeBron James, basketball: $119.5m

5. Canelo Alvarez, boxing: $110m

6. Dustin Johnson, golf: $107m

7. Phil Mickelson, golf: $106m

8. Stephen Curry, basketball: $100.4m

9. Roger Federer, tennis: $95.1m

10. Kevin Durant, basketball: $89.1m