Arguably one of the most popular sporting events in the world, the UEFA Champions League offers the grandest prize in European club football. The tournament, with nearly 70 years of heritage, has seen almost every famous footballer participate in it. As such, there is one pertinent question in the minds of football fans from around the globe: who are the highest-paid players in the Champions League?
Being the premier club football competition in Europe, the Champions League features the best teams in the continent (and perhaps the world) every season. Clubs like Real Madrid, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool FC, Manchester United, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Chelsea and several other giants of the sport have their names etched in the history of the competition (and, quite literally, on the trophy).
In 2023, Manchester City became the newest addition to the list of the winners of the UEFA Champions League as they lifted the coveted silverware after years of agony, defeating Inter Milan in the final. To date, Real Madrid remains the most successful team in the history of the competition, having won it a record 14 times.
Along with the behemoths of club football come some of the biggest players of their eras as well. Over the years, footballers such as Zinedine Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo Nazario, Ronaldinho, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Andrea Pirlo, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Andreas Iniesta, Iker Casillas and others have strived to lay their hands on the shining trophy. Some have succeeded in lifting the crown, while the same honour has eluded the rest.
With another season of the UEFA Champions League heading towards its knockout stages, we look at the highest-paid players in this elite club competition. The list has been curated based on the players’ annual salaries.
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Annual salary in 2023: USD 110 million
The days of calling Kylian Mbappe a French prodigy are long gone. In the past few years, the talismanic forward has cemented his position as one of the biggest names in the world of football. A winner of the FIFA World Cup (in 2018), UEFA Nations League (in 2020-21), six Ligue 1 titles (in 2016-17, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2019-20, 2021-22, 2022-23), FIFA World Cup Silver Ball and FIFA World Cup Golden Boot (both in 2022), and the prestigious Knight of the Legion of Honour (in 2018) — not many athletes can boast of such an illustrious career. And all this in his early twenties!
In the summer transfer window of 2023-24, Mbappe generated quite the buzz about his potential move away from Paris. Several clubs were interested in signing the youngster — Real Madrid was primed to be the Frenchman’s next destination. There were also reports of the 2018 World Cup winner heading to the Middle East, with Saudi Pro League club Al-Hilal offering him a contract worth a ridiculous sum of USD 775 million (including commercial arrangements and image rights) per year.
With his contract with Paris Saint-Germain running out at the end of the 2023-24 season, Mbappe has not yet agreed to extend his stay at the French club, leading to speculations about his transfer. As of 2023, the French youngster earns over USD 100 million annually, making him the highest-paid player in the UEFA Champions League.
Annual salary in 2023: USD 58 million
Born in England, it is only fitting that Erling Haaland (who is a naturalised citizen of Norway) found his greatest moments of glory in his country of birth. The prolific striker, who is revered for his physical strength, speed, positioning and finishing skills, enjoyed a record-breaking spell in his debut year at Manchester City. In 2022-23, Haaland broke the record for the most goals scored by a player in a single Premier League season with 36 goals to his name. Besides winning the Premier League Golden Boot, he was also named the league’s Young Player and the Player of the Season, becoming the first footballer to win all three awards in a single year.
Haaland’s heroics on the field ensured that Manchester City, as a team, became successful. After winning the Premier League and the FA Cup, City emerged victorious in the UEFA Champions League, becoming the European champions for the first time in the club’s history. In the process, City also joined their fellow rivals Manchester United as the only two clubs to win the coveted treble of the aforementioned competitions.
Kevin De Bruyne
Annual salary in 2023: USD 39 million
Often described as the most complete player by experts, Kevin De Bruyne is one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. The Belgian, who captains both the national side and the Manchester City team (after the departure of the treble-winning skipper Ilkay Gundogan), has been a part of the English club for nearly a decade. During this time, he has won five Premier League titles, two FA Cup crowns, five Carabao Cup trophies and a solitary Community Shield.
In 587 matches that De Bruyne has played throughout his club football career to date, the Belgian has found the back of the net on 143 occasions. In addition, he has also made nearly a hundred appearances for the Belgium national team and has scored 26 goals so far.
Annual salary in 2023: USD 36 million
While he has won the Golden Boot award for both his club and his country multiple times, Harry Kane does not share the same luck in winning trophies with his respective teams. The English forward has lost several big tournaments by the closest of margins. Notable of them are the 2018-19 UEFA Champions League final and the 2020 UEFA Euro final, which Kane ended up losing with Tottenham Hotspur and the England national team, respectively.
After 14 years at Tottenham, the Englishman decided to move to FC Bayern Munich in the 2023-24 summer transfer window. And, the transfer deal has reaped great dividends for the reigning Bundesliga champions — in 18 matches across all competitions, the Briton has scored 22 goals so far. Kane’s contract with Bayern ensured that he became one of the highest-paid footballers in the world.
Annual salary in 2023: USD 34 million
Arguably one of the best forwards of all time, the phrase ‘ageing like fine wine’ is best suited for Robert Lewandowski. Seeing him run on the football field, not many can say that he is over 35 years old. The captain of the Polish national football team, who now plays for FC Barcelona, has some of the most staggering numbers in world football — in 809 matches that he has featured in club football to date, Lewandowski has scored 581 goals.
Lewandowski has enjoyed widespread success, both with his teams and personally. He has won a mind-numbing 10 Bundesliga titles, a UEFA Champions League crown, a UEFA Super Cup title, a FIFA Club World Cup and a La Liga crown, besides other silverware. His personal honours include winning the Best FIFA Men’s Player (in 2020 and 2021), UEFA Men’s Player of the Year (in 2019-20), Ballon d’Or Striker of the Year (in 2021 and 2022) and the European Golden Shoe (in 2020-21 and 2021-22).
Annual salary in 2023: USD 26.5 million
Yet another stalwart in the UEFA Champions League, Toni Kroos has won the coveted title five times — four times with Real Madrid and once with FC Bayern Munich. The German midfielder, who is considered one of the finest in his generation, is also a FIFA World Cup winner with his national side (in 2014). Kroos was named the German Footballer of the Year in 2018 and was also a part of both the IFFHS World Team of the Decade and the IFFHS UEFA Team of the Decade for 2011-20.
In 702 appearances throughout his club football career to date, Kroos has found the back of the net 67 times. He has also played over a hundred matches for the German national team, during which time he has scored 17 goals.
Annual salary in 2023: USD 19.8 million
A versatile midfield player, who can also play as a winger according to his team’s needs, Jack Grealish is one of the most popular English athletes in contemporary times. He was a part of the Manchester City side that won the coveted treble of the Premier League, FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. Grealish made the headlines after City’s continental success in 2023, not because of his exploits on the field but for his celebrations post the UEFA Champions League final match.
The midfielder became the most expensive British football player ever in 2021 when Manchester City splurged an estimated USD 126.6 million to secure his services. In over 100 appearances for the club to date, the Englishman has found the back of the net 12 times.
Frenkie de Jong
Annual salary in 2023: USD 17.9 million
Hailing from the Netherlands, Frenkie de Jong was a part of the Ajax team that enjoyed its breakthrough season in 2018-19, winning the Eredivisie and the KNVB Cup, besides making a UEFA Champions League semi-final appearance for the first time in 22 years. The midfielder generated interest at the end of the season, and in the summer transfer window of 2019-20, he was picked up by FC Barcelona.
Over the next few seasons, the Dutch footballer developed into one of Barcelona’s pillars in the midfield. In nearly 200 appearances for the La Liga outfit, he has scored 16 goals to date. De Jong has won all major club football tournaments in Spain, namely the La Liga (in 2022-23), Copa del Rey (in 2020-21) and the Supercopa de Espana (in 2022-23).
Annual salary in 2023: USD 16.5 million
A regular in the Manchester City and the England national squad, John Stones is one of the most efficient defenders in the world. While he primarily plays as a centre-back, the Englishman has often doubled up as a defensive midfielder. Stones is revered for his sound technical ability and physical presence on the field.
Ever since joining the Manchester-based club, Stones has enjoyed significant success in terms of adding silverware to his cabinet. The Englishman has won five Premier League titles, two Carabao Cups, two FA Cup crowns, and the UEFA Champions League, which was also a part of City’s historic continental treble in 2022-23. With such an impressive portfolio, Stones is justified in being one of the highest-paid footballers in the Champions League.
Annual salary in 2023: USD 14.8 million
Wrapping up the list of the highest-paid footballers in the UEFA Champions League is yet another Manchester City player, Phil Foden. A graduate of the Manchester-based outfit’s academy, Foden made his debut for the club in 2017 in a Champions League encounter against Dutch side, Feyenoord. Since then, he has only been growing in stature.
The winner of the Golden Ball award at the 2017 FIFA Under-17 World Cup has featured in 237 matches for Manchester City so far, during which time he has scored 66 goals. Foden has won 15 titles with Manchester City to date, including the Champions League and the UEFA Super Cup, two of the most prestigious club competitions in Europe.
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(Hero Image Credits: Kylian Mbappé/Instagram and Erling Braut Haaland; Featured Image Credit: Kylian Mbappé/Instagram)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
– Who is the highest-paid player in the UEFA Champions League?
With a yearly salary of an estimated USD 110 million, Kylian Mbappe is the highest-paid player in the UEFA Champions League in 2023.