Up until recently, it was always the case that all of football’s most famous stars took home the biggest salaries at Europe’s top clubs. That’s changed dramatically since the Saudi Pro League began targeting some of the sport’s household names.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Karim Benzema now reportedly take home more than any player in Europe, while Lionel Messi isn’t doing too badly for himself out in Miami. Still, the superstars at the top of their game at Europe’s elite clubs continue to earn mammoth salaries.
10. Casemiro – €409,538 (£350,000)
Manchester United’s top earner following the summer departure of David de Gea made a big impact in his debut season at Old Trafford. The experienced Brazilian looked well worth the investment, having arrived in England with no fewer than five Champions Leagues under his belt.
Casemiro has started year two a little more slowly, leading to some prominent pundits asking the question of handing a player in his thirties such a lengthy and lucrative deal, but you’d be daft to write him off just yet.
9. Manuel Neuer – €403,846 (£350,977)
Bayern Munich’s captain has won two trebles at the club and has been at the club for each and every one of their 11 Bundesliga title victories in a row.
Needless to say, he’s been well remunerated for those years of exceptional service, having last signed a new contract in the summer of 2022. Given those wages, you imagine the Bavarian club might have been more than a little p*ssed off that he broke his leg in a skiing accident and was out of action for almost all of 2023.
8. Luka Modric – €420,769 (£359,598)
One of the greatest players of his generation has taken a different tack to former Los Blancos team-mate Sergio Ramos and remained at the Bernabeu deep into his thirties after signing a series of well-earned, short-term contract extensions – and he’s certainly proven himself worth his wages.
The Croatian midfielder signed another one-year deal in the summer and turned 38 earlier this season. This may well be his last year in the Spanish capital, as Carlo Ancelotti looks to transition to a new-look midfield of Jude Bellingham, Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga.
7. Erling Haaland – €438,791 (£375,000)
Given that he established himself as one of world football’s hottest properties whilst at Borussia Dortmund, it ought to be no surprise that Manchester City rolled out the red carpet and bowed to Haaland’s considerable wage demands when they signed him last summer.
In his debut season at the Etihad, the striker won the European Golden Shoe and ended up the top scorer in both the Champions League and Premier League as Pep Guardiola’s side claimed the treble. He ended up as the Ballon d’Or runner-up and surely would have got his hands on the prize had Lionel Messi not won the World Cup.
Haaland’s future is tied down in Manchester until 2027 but you imagine when the time comes to negotiate a new deal, he may well end up the highest-earning footballer in English football history.
Has Erling Haaland done enough to win the Ballon d'Or this year?! 🤔
◾️ Games – 53
◾️ Goals – 52
◾️ Assists – 9 pic.twitter.com/G5wSJSc1LE
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) September 7, 2023
6. David Alaba – €432,692 (£369,788)
The Austria international won the treble in his final season at Bayern Munich and departed Bavaria after a starring role in nine successive Bundesliga title wins.
Given that kind of track record, Alaba’s representatives were in a very strong position to negotiate a huge salary at Real Madrid. Especially given the Spanish giants weren’t required to pay any kind of transfer fee, with Alaba arriving as a free agent.
Two years later it’s safe to say that Alaba has proven worth his hefty wages, winning everything there is to win across his first two years with Madrid.
5. Kevin De Bruyne – €468,044 (£400,000)
The Premier League’s top earner doesn’t even have an agent.
He brokered his latest deal in April 2021 with the help of a lawyer, his father, and a data analysis firm that helped make the case he ought to be the top-earning player in the country.
Evidently as smart off the pitch as he is on it.
4. Toni Kroos – €468,846 (£400,686)
Like Modric, Kroos signed a new deal for a one-year contract extension at the Bernabeu back in June.
The German is five years younger than his era-defining midfield partner but has often made suggestions that he doesn’t intend to stick around playing until he’s approaching 40.
He’s the top earner at the Bernabeu and doesn’t appear interested in one final big-money payday when the time comes to leave, having called Gabri Veiga’s move to Saudi Arabia “embarrassing”.
3. Harry Kane – €480,769 (£410,876)
The top goalscorer in the history of both England and Tottenham Hotspur, Kane gave up – or postponed? – his ambitions of overtaking Alan Shearer to become the Premier League’s all-time top goalscorer by moving to Germany.
As well as playing a club-record €100million for the England captain’s signature, Bayern have handed him the most lucrative contract in the history of the Bundesliga.
“Just the experiences of having title runs and cup runs and hopefully a Champions League run will only add, hopefully, to handling pressure in certain situations,” Kane said earlier this season.
“If we are going to win anything with England we are going to have to deal with that. Me, being captain, I want to put myself in that position as much as possible.
“Whether I win or not, the decision (to join Bayern) came down to putting me in those situations. With Bayern Munich sometimes we expect them to win because they have won it for the last 11 years.”
He’s been ridiculous so far for Bayern. A record in keeping with his hefty wage packet.
2. Frenkie de Jong – €721,154 (£616,313)
Some of Barcelona’s economic levers and transfer activity have been a little eyebrow-raising – to say the least – amid their ongoing financial difficulties.
But to be fair, in recent years they’ve gone to great efforts to reduce their wage bill dramatically, offloading long-serving players like Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique and Jordi Alba.
One remaining hangover of the Josep Maria Bartomeu is the hefty pay packet commanded by De Jong, who last signed an extension in October 2020 after originally arriving in the summer of 2019.
The Netherlands international is an exceptional midfielder on his day but you imagine he’ll never earn more than his current deal, which runs until 2026.
1. Kylian Mbappe – €1,384,615 (£1,183,321)
No surprises here, is there?
Mbappe looks as though he’ll actually, finally, leave PSG in the next year or two. But you imagine even Florentino Perez and Real Madrid might struggle to match these kind of wages, which blow everyone else in Europe out of the water.