Real Madrid's Kaka is one of the world's highest-paid players.
Football is big business. Fans may baulk at terms like “brand” and “product,” but football’s unparalleled global popularity makes it a highly lucrative commercial market. Multi-million euro TV deals and the influx of billionaire investors have made football more valuable than ever.
Takeovers are almost a weekly occurrence, teams routinely splurge millions on big-name signings, and the plays themselves are among the highest-paid sportsmen in the world. Money has never been so relevant to football.
The biggest clubs in the world are blessed with almost limitless riches, and the world’s best players have never been so well paid. Few could begrudge Lionel Messi’s €10.5 million salary. The Argentine is the finest player of his generation, and his talents have been instrumental in Barcelona’s recent domination of world football. Similarly, Carlos Tevez’s importance to Manchester City more than justifies his €8 million-a-year deal, but what of those less worthy?
Overpaid players will always be a part of football for as long as there’s so much money in the game. Financial Fair Play may force clubs to tighten their purse strings and decrease their wage bills, but today’s football is still populated by those whose contribution to the game pales in comparison to their salary.
Here are the 10 most overpaid players in world football as defined by current form and their present relevance to the game.
Poor old Michael Ballack. Little over a year ago the former Bayern Munich man had been marked by Joachim Low as the man to lead his inexperienced Germany side to glory in the 2010 World Cup. A national icon, South Africa was supposed to be the 33-year-old's last moment in the sun and final chance to add some international silverware to an impressive resume that already included multiple domestic league and cup winners’ medals.
Ballack, at the height of his powers, was one of the world’s most imposing central midfielders. A potent goal-threat and a dominating physical presence, Ballack was once one of the world’s most sought-after players. Now he’s little more than a bit-part player at Leverkusen and a shadow of his former self. His national side have moved on without him, and he spends more time on the treatment table than the playing field.
Where did it all go wrong? It started with his move to Chelsea. Signed a Bosman and jackknifed into an unfamiliar system, Ballack never quite settled at Stamford Bridge and struggled for form. He eventually left for former club Leverkusen last summer, but he’s endured a torrid season at the BayArena and has only managed 17 league appearances in 2010/11.
Currently earning a whopping €95,000 per week, Ballack’s Leverkusen return has been a costly failure. You can hardly blame Leverkusen for bringing one of their former idols back to the Bundesliga, and it’s hardly their fault that he’s been so injury-prone, but Ballack hasn’t been a top player since his Chelsea move in 2006.
Sheikh Mansour’s 2008 purchase of Manchester City has given the Eastlands side unparalleled spending power. The Sheikh’s unending cash flow has transformed City from mid-table battlers to FA Cup winners, and now that their squad is finally starting to gel we can only expect more silverware to follow over the coming seasons.
Big-money signings like Carlos Tevez and Yaya Toure have shone under Mansour’s ownership, but the flipside of possessing such resources is that City are always going to overspend. Players and their agents know that, with Mansour’s wealth, City can afford to pay a premium for their services and will go into contract negotiations with the aim of milking as much money as they can for the club.
City's squad is full of players who on bloated contracts, and few are more overpaid that Gareth Barry. The Citizens pay Barry a weekly wage of approximately €105,000 when his actual value to the team is probably less than half of that. Barry lacks Nigel de Jong’s defensive prowess, has no notable playmaking abilities and his box-to-box drive is vastly inferior to Yaya Toure’s. His performances for club & country have been pedestrian since 2009, and he’s played very little part in City’s recent success.
Barry isn’t a bad player: he’s a decisively average player who’ll become increasingly irrelevant as Man City progress. He excelled at Aston Villa as their main man in central midfield but the quality of City’s squad means he’ll never have that opportunity at Eastlands. City’s finances mean they can afford to keep him around as a squad player, but Barry remains one of England’s most overpaid players.
Luca Toni hasn’t looked anything like the dominating centre forward of old since 2008, so why Juventus are paying him €95,000 a week is anyone’s guess. Signed in January after being released from his Genoa contract early, Toni has hit two goals in nine Bianconeri appearances. Not a terrible return, but it’s surprising that Juventus would recruit an over-the-hill player on such high wages given their recent financial troubles.
Once one of the world’s most feared marksmen, Toni is 33 now and little more than a role-player. Starting his career with Modena in Serie C, it took Toni until the 2004/05 season to really break through as a top Serie A striker at Palermo. A late bloomer, Toni was first called up to the Italian national side in 2004 (aged 26) and featured at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008.
His 2007 move to Bayern Munich was fruitful at first and Toni forged a ferocious strike partnership with Miroslav Klose. Things soon turned sour though. In November 2009, Toni was fined by Bayern when he left the stadium after being substituted at halftime in a match with Schalke. Toni left Genoa under similarly acrimonious circumstances this season: he’s a fading player, and his skills are no longer worth the baggage they come with.
Toni likely sees Juventus as one last big payday before retirement. He’s bound to the Turin side until next summer: whether or not he sees his contract out remains to be seen, but there will be few Juventini who will harbour fond memories of his stay.
Wayne Bridge, like Gareth Barry, is another overpaid Englishman of average ability at Manchester City. The difference between the two is that Barry actually plays. Bridge’s career has been rife with injuries ever since he left Southampton for Chelsea in 2003, and he’s only appeared in more than 20 league games twice since 2004.
Having fallen down the pecking order at Eastlands (at best he’s probably City’s third choice left back) Bridge spent the second-half of the 2010/11 season on-loan at recently relegated West Ham. His City career, it seems, is over.
Signed by Mark Hughes in January 2009, Bridge was thrust straight into the first team at a time when City lacked a solid option at LB (Michael Ball, anyone?). £10m was a hefty fee for such an injury-prone player, and his current €95,000 per week wages are likely to dissuade potential suitors if City do fancy getting rid of him this summer.
Bridge is still a capable player, but he’s 30 now and his body is only going to deteriorate further, ad €5 million a year is a hefty amount to spend on someone who can’t guarantee you more than 20 games a season.
It’s not Bridge’s fault that things have ended up this way. He showed great promise at Southampton and Chelsea, and he was generally solid in his first half-season at City, but injuries have definitely taken their toll. What happens to him next remains to be seen, but he’ll have to take a significant wage cut if he wants to move this summer.
The third Englishman on the list and the highest earning thus far at €125,000 per week, Johnson is one of the highest paid players in the Premier League. He’s the only player thus far who’s still in the prime of his career, and his inclusion isn’t because of attributes he’s lost over the years, but attributes he’s never had in the first place.
Glen Johnson is a fantastic attacking fullback. Blessed with pace, trickery and a mean cross, the athletic Londoner is as adept as anyone in the world at bombing forward and supporting attacks. There are certainly no problems with Johnson’s attacking game, but his defensive game is a completely different story.
Johnson has always been a defensive liability. Frequently caught out of position and a weak tackler, the defensive side of the former West Ham man’s game has always been an issue. He’ll whip balls into the back and provide plenty of assists, but he’s almost useless with opposition wingers running at him and there’s little chance that’ll change. Johnson’s attacking prowess means he’s a valuable member of the Liverpool and England squads, but his weaknesses are glaringly obvious.
Perhaps England’s lack of quality at RB can be used to justify Johnson’s salary, but €6.5 million is an awful lot of money to spend on a player who’s never learned to defend.
A controversial inclusion, perhaps, but Kaka’s time at Real Madrid has been hugely disappointing. His 2009 signing (along with that of Cristiano Ronaldo) was supposed to usher in a new Galacticos era at the Bernabeu, but things haven’t quite worked out for the Brazilian.
The statistics provide little cause for concern. Kaka has struck 16 goals and provided 13 assists in 52 Real appearances, but this is a perfect example of stats not telling the whole story. Anyone who’s witnessed his recent performances will tell you that Kaka has lost much of his verve, but there’s good reason for that.
A chronic knee problem has dogged the Brazilian’s career for years, and it may prove to be the thing that ends him as a truly world-class player. The word from Madrid is the talented playmaker rarely trains with the first team and may never truly recover from his injuries.
Real can’t be blamed for signing Kaka on a €175,000 per week contract. He was, at the time, one of the best players in the world. He captured the world’s imagination at AC Milan and was undoubtedly their star man for most of Carlo Ancelotti’s reign as manager, but he’s clearly not the player he used to be. Kaka’s brain is as sharp as ever, but his bad knee has robbed him of the explosive bursts that made him such a lethal trequartista.
Kaka may yet make a full recovery from his injuries. It could be that he just hasn’t been given enough time to rest and 2011/12 could be the season when he finally replicates his Milan form for Real. For now, though, Kaka is doing little to justify his massive salary.
Another example of a player whose abilities have severely diminished over the years, Joe Cole’s slide to mediocrity has been excruciating. Cole, like Bridge, has had his troubles with injuries over the years, but isn’t the only reason for the England international’s fall from grace.
The rigours and demands of the English game appear to have taken their toll on Cole. At West Ham he was a dazzling prospect with almost limitless potential. Cole burst on the scene and immediately caught the eye with a series of scintillating performances for West Ham. With pace, good passing ability and the technique to rival any South American player, Cole was the total package.
Eventually his displays earned him a move to Chelsea but Cole has never fulfilled his true potential. After seven years of blowing hot and cold at Stamford Bridge Cole eventually signed for Liverpool on a free transfer last summer. On paper it looked like a bargain: an English international with over 300 appearances at the highest level for free. When you consider his weekly wage of €105,000, however, the deal seems ludicrous.
Three goals aside, Cole’s performances on Merseyside have been nothing short of lacklustre. His zest and enthusiasm drained, Cole drags himself around the football pitch like a man who just isn’t enjoying himself anymore.
Perhaps a victim of English football’s short-sighted insistence on insisting flair players “toughen up,” perhaps a victim of his own hype, Joe Cole will look back on his career wondering what could’ve been. He’s had a good career at the top level, but he promised so much more.
Yaya Toure is an exceptional midfielder and one of the main reasons behind Manchester City’s improvement this season. It was his goal that sealed their victory in the FA Cup final, and his driving runs and all-action midfield displays have driven the Citizens forward even when their other players haven’t delivered.
Alongside the outstanding Vincent Kompany and Carlos Tevez, Toure has been one of City’s best players this season. His mobility in the middle of the park has given City some much-needed balance in midfield and his rampaging runs into the box have been giving opposing defenders headaches all season. So what’s the catch?
€190,000. That’s how much money City pay Toure each and every week. The only footballers who earn more than him are Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Fernando Torres. A €10 million annual salary is pocket change to Sheikh Mansour, but is Yaya Toure really worthy of such a bloated pay-cheque? Absolutely not, especially when you consider Xavi Hernandez’s yearly wage of €7.5 million.
City will pay their players far more money than they’re worth for as long as Sheikh Mansour is at the club. Toure will no doubt be a key player for them for seasons to come, but he’s on the kind of money that should be reserved for players who are among the best of their generation. It’s unlikely that Toure will ever reach that level.
Samuel Eto’o, Carlos Tevez, David Villa, Didier Drogba, Gonzalo Higuain, Francesco Totti, Sergio Aguero, Mario Gomez. Not only is this a list of some of the best forwards in the world, but it’s also a list of players who earn less money than Emmanuel Adebayor.
A dominant centre forward on his day, the Togo international’s biggest problem is that his day doesn’t come often enough. Adebayor has notched just three goals in 21 league appearances for Man City and Real Madrid this season. In truth, he’s hardly had a sniff at City this year with Tevez, Edin Dzeko and Mario Balotelli ahead of him in the pecking order, but this is an abysmal return for a man who’s paid €165,000 per week for his services.
Like so many of his fellow professionals, Adebayor’s biggest problem is his ego. The Togolese’s opinion of himself has grown to farcical proportions after a good few seasons at Arsenal and a great start to his City career. Adebayor inability to co-operate with Roberto Mancini may prompt a summer transfer, but Adebayor will struggle to find a club willing to pay the wages he thinks he’s worth.
Enough has been written about Fernando Torres’ Stamford Bridge failings to eliminate the need to go into too much detail. The Spaniard’s time in London has disastrous thus far. There’s still a top quality player in Torres and he may yet come good for the Blues, but his current form definitely warrants his place at the top of this list.
The third highest-paid player in the world, Torres earns approximately €190,000 per week at Chelsea. In 17 games, he’s rewarded his new employers with just one puddle-assisted goal. His performances have been abject, and the former Atletico Madrid marksman looks even shorter on confidence than he did during the dying stages of his Liverpool career.
Torres needs a rest. International duty has meant he hasn’t had an uninterrupted summer break since 2007, and the niggling injuries he’s picked up over the past few seasons have clearly taken their toll. The coming summer break will give Torres the opportunity to recharge his batteries and recover his form, but he has a lot of work to do to get back to his devastating best.
Maybe Torres will go on to justify every penny Chelsea have spent on him, or maybe he’ll never find a way out of his current rut. Regardless, Torres has had a terrible 2010/11 season and is without question the most overpaid player in the world at this point in time.