Soccer is one of the most lucrative sports in the world, and it’s even better these days because of its globalization and how much money football clubs rake in from their lucrative sponsorship and marketing deals. This means footballers make a fortune from playing the game, even at lower league levels like the EFL Championship.
With the kind of money football stars are making, it’s quite surprising to see some who still manage to end up broke. From old-timers to recently-retired soccer stars, the list of the top richest footballers is an exciting one, and we believe you can’t wait to see some of the big names featured on it.
#10. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona is one of the greatest footballers of all time, and the Argentine magician achieved everything at the top level during his playing career. He won the World Cup with Argentina in 1986, cementing his spot as a little god in the country. Maradona’s club career was also illustrious, with the magical left-footer playing for the likes of Barcelona, Napoli, and Sevilla in Europe.
Maradona’s achievements at the top level meant that he made an incredible amount of money, even at the time. However, his financial issues began in 1991 when Napoli fined him a whopping $70,000 due to a drug scandal. He was also allegedly involved with the crime organization Camorra.
He filed for bankruptcy in 2009 after he was caught up in a tax evasion issue where he owed almost $50 million in back taxes. Sadly, his drug issues persisted until his passing in 2020, after he suffered a cardiac arrest.
Ronaldinho may not be talked about in the same breath as Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, but most young soccer fans fell in love with the sport just by watching the Brazilian do his magic on the pitch, thanks to his flair and incredible trickery.
He was so good that he won the 2005 Ballon d’Or, paving the way for Lionel Messi to become the player that he is today. Sadly, like other notable Brazilian soccer stars, Ronaldinho didn’t use the money wisely and in 2018, he was reported to have only had £5 in his bank account.
Most of his financial problems came from an illegal construction issue in a protected area back in Brazil. He also spent some time in jail in Paraguay in 2020, when he reportedly entered the country with fake travel documents.
#8. Paul Gascoigne
Paul Gascoigne may not have maximized his potential, but he’ll forever be remembered as one of the best English soccer players of all time. He led England into the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup and the Euros in 1996, becoming a household name for football fans across the country.
He also played for big clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Lazio, and Newcastle. However, the depression and emotional issues he suffered during the end of his career sent him into early retirement, and he eventually turned to drugs.
He was involved in a high-profile racial case where he racially harassed his black bodyguard, leading to some crazy fines in the midst of rising debt that totalled £200,000.
#7. David James
The undisputed former England goalkeeper is considered a Premier League legend by many, and rightly so. The legendary English shot-stopper played for some of the biggest clubs in the country, like Manchester City, Aston Villa, Liverpool, and West Ham United.
He also held the record for the most clean sheets in the Premier League (169) before Chelsea’s Petr Cech surpassed it. According to Sportskeeda, James earned as much as £20 million in his career, which also involved modeling for top brands like Armani, thanks to his good looks.
James suffered a huge financial setback in 2005 when he went through a costly divorce and eventually filed for bankruptcy in 2014 after being forced to sell some of his valuable assets, like his sports memorabilia.
#6. Celestine Babayaro
Babayaro was part of Nigeria’s golden generation that won the Olympic Gold in 1996, making him a very popular player in his homeland. He will also be remembered for being a part of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side that dominated the Premier League in the early 2000s.
The Nigerian had an illustrious career playing for the likes of Chelsea, Newcastle, Anderlecht, and LA Galaxy in the United States. His move to the United States did not work out as he thought he had secured the last big paycheck of his career. His contract was terminated in March, a few months after joining.
He was declared bankrupt in 2011, a year after retiring from professional football.
#5. Brad Friedel
For what it’s worth, Friedel is a Premier League legend, having played for the likes of Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur all from 1997 to 2015, when he last appeared for Tottenham.
Having started his college career in the United States, Friedel’s first action, with all the money he had made from football abroad, was to build a football academy to help provide a future for the kids in his country. However, this move blew up and left him in debt.
#4. Wes Brown
Wes Brown is the most recent former soccer star to go bankrupt. The United legend had a glittering career at the club, having been a part of the club since 1992 up until 2011, when he left for Sunderland.
Brown’s bankruptcy came after a messy divorce with his ex-wife Leanne. He had to vacate the home they shared together. The Premier League legend currently holds an ambassadorial role at United, giving everyone the feeling that he’ll soon be back on his feet.
#3. John Arne Riise
John Arne Riise’s riches to rags story is a pretty sad one. The Norwegian filed for bankruptcy in 2007, just two years after winning the UEFA Champions League with Liverpool. He was 26 at the time, but a very bad divorce left him in a difficult financial position.
The former Liverpool player has been involved in several bankruptcies since his retirement from professional football. Things became so hard at some point that he got financial assistance from Norwegian economist Silje Sandamael, who was part of a reality show that helped people with financial difficulties.
#2. Paul Merson
Paul Merson was such a character for Arsenal, and he’s shown that again as he works his way back into life following a gambling problem that took everything away from him. The Arsenal legend spent a whopping £7 million on gambling and once said he considered breaking his fingers to avoid having to use his phone to contact the bookies in an attempt to withdraw from his addiction.
Now 55, Paul Merson is now a pundit for Sky Sports. He also writes a weekly column for the Daily Star, which indicates that the former Arsenal midfielder has gotten his life back after losing everything, including his first marriage.
#1. Eric Djemba-Djemba
Eric Djemba-Djemba played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, who is now the richest soccer star in the world, but the guess is that the Cameroonian didn’t take any financial advice from his ex-teammate.
He was quite a journeyman, playing for teams like Nantes, Aston Villa, Burnley, Hapoel Tel Aviv, and St. Mirren, and even spending some stints in India and Indonesia. Despite his spells across the globe, the former United midfielder was declared bankrupt four years after leaving United for Aston Villa.
As lucrative as soccer is, not all players have managed to spend their career earnings wisely. While the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are building generations of wealth with their talents, other richest footballers have not managed to do so, some of whom we’ve mentioned on this list.
Did we miss someone who should have made it to this list? Tell us what you think in the comments section.