European soccer’s midseason transfer window—when clubs are permitted to buy and sell players—is open for the next month, meaning things could get a bit crazy in the next few weeks as clubs try to salvage or cement their seasons with expensive additions.
But if you want to buy the best players it is going to cost you. A lot.
According to a new study (pdf) by the CIES Football Observatory, backed by France’s Université of Franche-Comté and supported by FIFA, the most expensive soccer player in the world is Lionel Messi, and he’s worth a ridiculous €220 million ($261 million). That means Messi, who starred in last year’s World Cup for Argentina and plays club soccer for Barcelona in Spain, remains the most valuable athlete on the planet.
The above figures are just what the CIES Football Observatory estimates it would cost in fees for other clubs to pry away these players from their existing employers, not what players are actually paid in salaries. (Last year, Forbes reported that Cristiano Ronaldo, the second-most valuable player according to the CIES analysis, was paid more than Messi.)
Transfer fees can also be affected by how long a player has left on its contract. And for what it’s worth, the CIES Football Observatory says the above values are calculated as follows:
[U]sing an exclusive algorithm developed on the basis of over 1,500 fee paying transfers occurred since 2009. The variables included in our exclusive econometric model refer to player performances (matches, goals, dribbles, etc.), their characteristics (age, position, contract duration, etc.), as well as competition level and results achieved by their teams (clubs and national sides).
The most expensive actual transfer in the history of soccer remains Gareth Bale’s move from Tottenham to Real Madrid for €100 million in late 2013. There a couple of dynamics that explain these jaw dropping numbers. The first is continued strength in TV broadcast deals for soccer. The second is the fact that some of the richest clubs are backed by people with extremely deep pockets (like Russian oligarchs, and mideast billionaire Sheiks) or wealth from property holdings and tacit support from governments.
FIFA has imposed “financial fair play” restrictions that limit the ability of clubs to rack up losses by spending on players, although there are signs that some of the more powerful clubs have already figured out ways around them. So don’t expect transfer fee inflation to subside any time soon.