Top ten highest-paid athletes of 2022 released by Forbes with Lionel Messi still top despite struggles at PSG

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LIONEL MESSI is the highest-paid sports star in the world for 2022 – and now earns as much as Cristiano Ronaldo off the pitch.

The legendary Argentine has endured a tough first season at Paris Saint-Germain following his shock Barcelona exit.

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Neymar and Lionel Messi both feature in the top four for highest-paid athletes in 2022Credit: AFP

But he has continued to rake the cash in from his new club and his various sponsors.

And that sees him return to the top of the Forbes rankings for 2022 after doing so in 2019.

However, last year’s top dog, Conor McGregor, does not even make the top ten this time around – with the majority of his £148million earnings coming from selling his Proper No. Twelve whiskey brand.

Other notable absentees this time around include F1 pair Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton, Naomi Osaka, Tiger Woods, Tyson Fury and Kylian Mbappe.

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So who are the world’s top-earning athletes right now?

10. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Basketball – £66m

The ‘Greek Freak’, 27, has pretty much an even split of on-court and off-court earnings and is the youngest member of this exclusive club – in fact he is the only one still in his 20s.

Giannis Antetokounmpo completes the top ten and is the youngest of the group

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Giannis Antetokounmpo completes the top ten and is the youngest of the groupCredit: Getty Images – Getty

The Milwaukee Bucks’ two-time MVP boasts the biggest contract in NBA history and has plenty of sponsors including WhatsApp and Google as well as an NFT platform and Disney+ biopic on the way.

9. Tom Brady – NFL – £69m

Brady’s short-lived retirement means the iconic quarterback will be back on the pitch for Tampa Bay Buccaneers later this year.

Tom Brady already earns big before his mega-deal with Fox Sports starts

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Tom Brady already earns big before his mega-deal with Fox Sports startsCredit: Getty

Not that the 44-year-old needs the extra cash, with £43m of his money coming from various ventures including NFTs, production companies and a clothing label – plus he has a £307m deal as a Fox Sports commentator when he does retire.

8. Canelo Alvarez – Boxing – £74m

He may have lost just his second career fight with a shock defeat to Dmitry Bivol, but one look at his bank balance will soon boost the Mexican, 31, and top-paid boxer in the world.

Canelo Alvarez is the only combat sportsperson in the top ten and has the highest percentage of on-field earnings

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Canelo Alvarez is the only combat sportsperson in the top ten and has the highest percentage of on-field earningsCredit: Reuters

A whopping 95 per cent of his earnings came from inside the ring thanks to two PPV fights earning as least £33m each – the Bivol fight was not included in the current list – supplemented by his taco restaurant and Hennessy deal.

7. Roger Federer – Tennis – £74m

For a 40-year-old man who won just nine tennis matches since February 2020 – none since last summer – and is currently in rehab from another knee surgery, Federer is doing alright for himself.

Federer has not won a tennis match since July 2021 but is the No1 for sponsorships

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Federer has not won a tennis match since July 2021 but is the No1 for sponsorshipsCredit: Getty

The Swiss maestro is world sport’s No1 brand ambassador with £73.5m of his £74m coming from sponsors such as Uniqlo, Rolex and Swiss shoe brand On.

6. Kevin Durant – Basketball – £76m

The Brooklyn Nets hero, 33, brings in the majority of his cash from commercial deals and a business empire, with £23m alone for wearing Nike trainers.

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A whole host of business ventures help Kevin Durant earn the big bucks

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A whole host of business ventures help Kevin Durant earn the big bucksCredit: AP

Other sources of incoming include Coinbase, Weepmaps, Boardroom, Thirty Five Ventures, an NFT platform and a digital fitness startup.

5. Steph Curry – Basketball – £76m

No NBA player earned more this season on the court than Curry – and that £38m figure is only going up after he signed a whopping new contract to see him pocket nearly £50m by 2025-26.

As one of the most marketable NBA players, Steph Curry has huge incoming on and off the court

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As one of the most marketable NBA players, Steph Curry has huge incoming on and off the courtCredit: Getty Images – Getty

Away from Golden State, the 34-year-old has an FTX endorsement which includes an equity stake and NFTs in three metaverses – although he pledged to donate the earnings – as well as a production company Unanimous Media.

Neymar, 30, is on around £600,000 a week as his basic wage at PSG, delivering just 12 goals in all competitions this term and only a Ligue 1 winners medal to show.

Neymar is one of the top-paid footballers in the world before considering his deals

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Neymar is one of the top-paid footballers in the world before considering his dealsCredit: AFP

But Forbes have him down as earning another £500,000 per week on average from various bonuses and signing-on fees – plus £20m from endorsements such as Puma, Red Bull, Netflix and his recent launch of an electric car in Germany alongside Alica Schmidt.

Time for the big hitters and no surprise to see Ronaldo’s name right among them with his mammoth Manchester United wages and various extra bonuses.

Cristiano Ronaldo is forced to settle behind Lionel Messi once again

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Cristiano Ronaldo is forced to settle behind Lionel Messi once againCredit: Getty

Just shy of half of the 37-year-old’s £94m came from off-field payments including mega bucks from Nike, Herbalife and Clear shampoo while the Portuguese icon rakes it in from the likes of ZujuGP as the most-followed person on Instagram.

2. LeBron James – Basketball – £99m

James’ basketball accolades speak for themselves with the LA Lakers great continuing to be paid huge wages in the NBA.

LeBron James is the top-paid athlete in all of American sports

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LeBron James is the top-paid athlete in all of American sportsCredit: Getty

But two-thirds of his 2022 comes from elsewhere including featuring in Space Jam, his The Shop talk show, selling his stake in a production company and various endorsements including with Crypto.com – together they made James, 37, the tenth athlete to pass the 12-month $100m landmark.

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Top of the pile is Messi, 34, who bags an eye-watering £1.2m per WEEK simply by being a PSG player once bonus fees are added to his monster wages – although apparently that £61m is £18m less than his annual wage during his last year at Barcelona.

The £16m deal with Socios, together with being on the payroll of adidas, Budweiser, PepsiCo and Hard Rock International means the Ballon d’Or winner made the same amount off the field (£45m) as Ronaldo for the first time since 2013.

PSG money pagnet Messi is crowned king once again - just as he was in 2019

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PSG money pagnet Messi is crowned king once again – just as he was in 2019Credit: Getty

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