||[Mar. 29th, 2007|11:05 pm]
According to Forbes, Ronaldinho is the highest paid footballer in the world this year, surpassing David Beckham.
If the late Johnny Haynes could read this story about the top-earning football stars today, he would turn in his grave.
The Fulham and England playmaker--they were called inside forwards in those days--was the first £100-a-week player in the English game following the Football League's abolition in 1961 of its maximum wage for players. Or at least he was the first to be openly paid that. Under-the-counter payments weren't unknown.
Haynes' wages were five times the previous maximum and seven times the then-average manual wage. Up until then even England's top players earned about the same as a skilled electrician or plumber.
Fast forward half a century: Not only have we now had the first £100,000-a-week player in the English game, but the top stars earn more than 225 times the U.K.’s mean wage. Even plumbers haven't managed to keep up with that.
Our list of the 10 top-earning football stars (wages plus endorsements) has a heavy salting of Premiership superstars--five.
Spain's La Ligua boasts four, including the No. 1 on our list, Ronaldinho, who earns two pounds for pitching the likes of Nike (nyse: NKE - news - people ), EA Sports, Cadbury and PepsiCo (nyse: PEP - news - people ) for every one made playing for Barcelona. Just one of the 10 top earners plays in Italy's Serie A.
While the five in the Premiership are three Englishmen, a German and a Frenchman, it is the appeal of their league to a global television audience that is their pot of gold.
TV-rights money is pouring straight through to star players' paychecks faster than Thierry Henry can outsprint a defender. Even five years ago, base salaries of £100,000 a week were unknown. Manchester United’s captain, Roy Keane, was then the best-paid player in Britain, having to struggle by on £53,000 a week.
The wage bar was reset last summer when Henry re-signed with Arsenal for a reported £112,000 a week. Then Michael Ballack moved from Bayern Munich to Chelsea for £121,000 a week.
Six-figure pay checks only look set to become more commonplace in the Premiership as a new three-year, £1.7 billion TV deal kicks in for the 2007-'08 season. That deal will put more than £300,000 a week in the coffers of the top Premiership clubs, much of which will go straight out again in wages.
While Henry and Ballack are world-class players commanding a market rate for their services, they are also at the wrong end of their careers. How much will it take to re-sign 22-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the best player in Europe this season and now in contract renewal talks with Manchester United?
Teammate and fellow barely-20-something Wayne Rooney doubled his wages when he recently extended his contract till 2012--and Rooney, unlike the young Portuguese, didn't have Real Madrid coyly flapping its eyelids in his direction. Rooney still did well enough to make No. 4 in our list.
While not in the same earnings league as Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods, top-paid Premiership players are getting within touching distance of the better-paid U.S. pro sports stars.
Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts, has the highest base pay in the National Football League at £150,000 a week, although a basketball star like Shaquille O’Neal or baseball player Alex Rodriguez earn more than £200,000 and £250,000 a week, respectively.
The missing piece for most football players? Endorsements in the lucrative U.S. market, beyond sporting goods makers like Nike and Adidas (other-otc: ADDDY - news - people ). Even there, though, David Beckham is paving the way with the deal that takes him from Real Madrid to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Thanks to a cut of ticket sales and Galaxy replica kit he will potentially earn £127 million over five years for his playing and marketing services.
Top Earning Players-- Ronnie tops the list.
Who's hot. Who's not.
^ Click on the blue arrows to navigate through all the players.