Knowing for sure who is the highest paid football player in the world can be harder than one would expect. Contrary to football club accounts, there are no official sources for salaries and public data are scarce. Thus, all rankings inevitably end up being constructed on the basis of partial – and often unconfirmed – data, inside information, rumors and a good deal of speculation. The conclusion, which may be surprising to many, is that discovering the highest paid player in the world can be as haphazard and unpleasant a task as choosing the best player in the world: after much discussion and debate, consensus can not be obtained.

In Finance Football we have already analyzed more than a dozen different rankings and we could see the differences – sometimes brutal – that separate them from each other. For example, while Sportek says that Cristiano Ronaldo is making 22 million euros a year, Forbes is making a whopping 45 million euros. A couple of months ago, after careful research, we produced our own ranking, which put Ronaldo ahead of Tévez, reversing the hierarchy that most media ‘bought’ after the Argentine striker moved from Boca Juniors to China.

But all rankings are provisional, and it is quite possible that the actual table is different. In the book Football Leaks: The Dirty Business of Football, Der Spiegel journalists Rafael Buschmann and Michael Wulzinger advance new data on the astronomical amounts paid to football players and claim that according to confidential information they had access to, the first Table place is occupied by … Ezequiel Lavezzi, of the China Fortune Habei.

According to the journalists, the Argentine striker earns more than Carlos Tévez and Cristiano Ronaldo himself, with around 36 million euros a year. This is despite the fact that his presence at the Chinese club has been far from successful: since switching from Paris-Saint-Germain to the East Asian country, Lavezzi only scored two goals and has been one of the most discreet Westerners in the league Chinese.

What is the credibility of these values? As we have already explained, it is notoriously difficult to measure the wages of football players, given the difficulty in distinguishing bonus from salaries, separating advertising revenues from the compensation package, and so on. There are a number of methodological issues to be addressed, which many media simply ignore.

In addition, it is necessary to take into account the tax burden and social contributions, which inevitably affect the net income of each player. In the case of China, where the tax system is much less transparent than that of Western countries, the difficulty in making comparisons becomes even greater.

But even the salary ‘calculated’ by journalists at Der Spiegel continues to be lower than the figure that Finance Football came a few months ago to Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary: 38.9 million euros. We have difficulty evaluating the reasonableness of Lavezzi’s salary, but we believe that if it is the one reported in the book then it will still be lower than Ronaldo’s.

Therefore, Ronaldo may be aging, but we believe that in addition to continuing to score goals like no other, it also remains the highest paid in the world.

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