Who is the best paid soccer player in the world? A few weeks ago all the sports newspapers made headlines with the extraordinary annual salary of Carlos Tévez, who moved from Argentina to China for an outstanding €40 million/year salary. But while everyone has rushed to crown the Argentine striker as the new king of football salaries, the reality seems to be a bit more complex.

Finance Football looked at all the numbers, amassed some statistics and compared lots of sources. And, all in all, Cristiano Ronaldo still seems to be in the first position. Tévez has a huge salary but, after taking everything into account, it is still the Real Madrid’s number 7 that leads the table.

Our ranking, presented below, is the end result of an exhaustive comparison of various sources of information, analyzed over several weeks. We believe this is the most complete and reliable table, using all numbers published by various agencies and adjusting values whenever inconsistencies are detected – which unfortunately happens too often, as we will see.

Strange? Not that much. Keep reading and carry on.

Why is it so difficult to know how much they pocket?

Suppose, for example, that you want to discover Cristiano Ronaldo’s salary. According to Forbes, the Portuguese star pocketed 45 million euros in 2016 (52 million dollars). But the prestigious France Football points to a more modest 32 million euros, while the specialized website Sportek claims that the ‘true’ number is more on the vicinity of 22 million euros (365 thousand pounds per week). Yes, folks, that is true: public estimates of Ronaldo’s base salary differ by more than 20 million euros.

Some of the discrepancies stem from differences regarding the way ‘income’ is defined. Forbes, for example, counts not only the base salary but also the bonuses, which in top athletes can reach stratospheric levels. But the values also differ because it is genuinely difficult to know for sure what the athletes have signed with the clubs – unfortunately, not all contracts go public (as happened with Neymar’s). Realizing what is rumor and what is reality has forced a work of several days.

This is one of the reasons why Ronaldo’s salary is probably underestimated in most newspapers. His basic wage is usually reported on a net basis – after taxes -, contrary to what happens with most soccer players’ wages. And the same happens with Messi. After adjusting upwards Ronaldo’s pay to take this fact into account, the Portuguese star climbs a bit on the table, and moves ahead of Tévez. Again.

Argentine Lionel Messi is the third in the table, with a base salary of €36 million/year, well ahead of the rest of the competition: Hulk, Gareth Bale and Paul Pogba. The Welsh has recently renewed with Real Madrid, and French has become the most expensive hiring in the world of football, but both are still well behind the Barcelona’s number 10.

There is something about China…

But the most remarkable thing here is probably the fact that China puts exactly 10 players on the list of the top 20 highest paid players in the world right now. Exactly: the East Asian giant represents half the table. Some are top players like Tevez and Hulk. But others are, let’s face it, very little known by most of the fans. Still, they earn money like true stars – more than any superstar playing for clubs like Juventus or Bayern Munchen.

The growth of the Chinese impact on football is a recent but impressive phenomenon. In fact, China is already the largest foreign investor in European football, is in the process of finalizing the purchase of the giant AC Milan and pays salaries like no other country. Where does this end? Nobody knows, but for now China seems to be on the verge of controlling the world of football.