Lionel Messi is headed to Paris. But in the ranks of the world’s highest-paid athletes, he’s not going anywhere.
The 34-year-old star, widely considered soccer’s best active player, appears to be joining Paris Saint-Germain, where he will earn an estimated $75 million in salary annually, multiple people familiar with the deal tell Forbes. In addition, he will earn a bonus and a cut of player rights, including jersey sales. That could be significant money: When Cristiano Ronaldo transferred to Italy’s Juventus in 2018, for example, the club sold $61 million worth of his jerseys in 24 hours. Messi could fuel a similar rush that could be monetized in places as far-flung as soccer-crazed Los Angeles, where PSG opened a team store in May.
On the whole, the deal will likely keep Messi ahead of his longtime rival Cristiano Ronaldo ($70 million) and his new teammate Neymar Jr. ($76 million) with his on-field pay; with his $33 million in annual endorsement earnings factored in, his place among the world’s highest-paid athletes should be secure.
With Messi in the French capital, PSG is in a position to continue its dominance in France’s Ligue 1 and on the international stage. The club owns seven of the last nine French league titles and reached the UEFA Champions League final in 2020. And the timing couldn’t be better. The combination of Messi and Neymar (signed through 2025) could be a compelling reason for 22-year-old phenom Kylian Mbappé to re-sign with PSG when his contract expires next summer.
Messi has compiled more than $1.2 billion in career earnings before taxes and agent fees, according to Forbes estimates, having earned $875 million on the pitch and $375 million in endorsements. He was the highest-paid soccer player in the world this year at $130 million (made up of $97 million in salary and $33 million in endorsements from partners Adidas, Anheuser-Busch InBev and Gatorade, among others). And that figure could have been even higher: Forbes estimates that Messi lost between $25 million and $75 million of salary and bonuses to pandemic-related pay cuts over the last two seasons.
According to a statement from Barcelona, Messi and the club had reached an agreement for the superstar to remain in Spain, but because of “financial and structural obstacles,” the deal could not be consummated. That refers to the pandemic reduction of La Liga’s salary cap, which lowered the league’s total spending on player wages by $700 million last year. Barcelona itself has been riddled with financial difficulties, with Spanish newspaper El Mundo reporting in January that the club was on the “verge of bankruptcy.” The club’s most recent financial filings show a loss of $117 million in 2020 and $1.4 billion in debt.
“We are over the salary limit that we are allowed. It is as simple as that,” Barcelona president Laporta said at a news conference on Friday.
Messi’s departure from Barcelona closes the door on an astonishing career at Camp Nou. He played in 778 matches, netting 672 goals and 268 assists. He won 35 titles and 78 awards, including a record six Ballon d’Or awards.
PSG has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday at 11 a.m. CET to announce the move.