The most expensive confrontation in history
The Spanish publication El Mundo has recently published a high-profile story about the conflict between Cristiano Ronaldo and his ex-agent Jorge Mendes. They parted recently – immediately after the Portuguese’s controversial interview with Piers Morgan before the World Cup. He signed a record contract with Al-Nassr without the help of his old friend, with whom he had worked for almost 20 years.
The article says, among other things, that Ronaldo was obsessed with Messi’s salary at Barcelona and was interested in the rival’s earnings throughout his career at Real Madrid. At the 2018 Ballon d’Or ceremony, he asked Josep Bartomeu how much Messi was paid. The Barca president replied, “I can’t say exactly, but twice what you are paid at Real Madrid.”
According to El Mundo, soon afterwards, Ronaldo decided to leave Real Madrid for Juventus. It is difficult to judge the authenticity of this story, but it is another reason to compare Ronaldo and Messi’s earnings year by year. And to find out whether Barca paid Leo more than Cristiano.
We’ll start with 2004, when Messi signed his first professional contract with Barcelona. Cristiano was then gradually settling in at Old Trafford and was not one of the leaders at Man Utd. He was, however, getting a lot of money – the result of Mendes’ efforts.
Ronaldo received his first pay rise at Man Utd in 2007, when his income jumped from €2.1m to €7m a year. Messi, on the other hand, grew exponentially during his first years as a grown-up: €0.5m, €1.2m, €2.4m, €4.8m. After his triumph in the 2008/09 season, the Argentinian received worldwide recognition and a corresponding fee (even more than Cristiano’s at Old Trafford).
By the way, during Cristiano’s first two seasons in Spain, Leo continued to earn slightly more than the Portuguese. But since 2014, with a second Ballon d’Or and a new contract from Real Madrid, Ronaldo has surged ahead. According to Forbes, up until 2018, he was earning slightly, but still more than Messi. However, that changed in 2018 when Leo re-signed with Barca on some crazy terms. Seemingly, that’s the period discussed in the El Mundo article (€76 million a year for Messi and €55 million for Cristiano). The Argentine did start to earn more than Ronaldo, but certainly not twice as much, more like a third.
But Cristiano’s departure from Real Madrid has not remedied the fee situation, although Juventus did pay him a hefty fee. Until his move to Al Nassr, the Portuguese earned less than Messi. Now, however, he makes several times more.
In 2011, Messi and Ronaldo were among the ten athletes with the highest annual income. Since then, only one footballer has surpassed the pair in this ranking – David Beckham did so in 2012 and 2013. In addition to salary, the list considers sponsorship contracts and income from the sale of image rights. Of course, it is impossible to calculate all amounts accurately, but the approximate total earnings can be estimated.
Ronaldo has managed to overtake Messi seven times in the 11 years taken into account. But since 2018, Lionel has overtaken Cristiano and, until recently, earned more yearly (except for the covid 2020).
However, the Portuguese’s income was still higher in the reporting period, with €929 million for Messi and €935 million for Ronaldo.