When most of America thinks of highly paid athletes, their minds naturally turn to the NFL players who have the highest average salaries of any profession in the States. This is a rather myopic view as most of us Yanks tend to forget that to the 96 percent of the world outside our borders’ football is a completely different game. What's worse, events like the World Cup and Premier League Finals viewership makes the Superbowl look like a late-night infomercial. With a big audience comes big money and it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that for the last decade FIFA stars have dominated the list of highest-paid athletes in the world. Footballers earn an average of almost three times what an NFL Player makes and have the cash to drive the sweetest rides on the planet.
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With a base annual salary approaching $100 million not counting bonuses, endorsements and prize winnings Lionel Messi, forward and captains for both Barcelona and the Argentina national team, is the world’s highest-paid athlete and a certified gearhead. Widely considered the greatest player of his generation it is rumored he is just as much of a magician behind the wheel as on the pitch. With money to burn regardless of fuel prices, Messi has too extensive a car collection to cover here in its entirety, but these are our favorites.
Any Maserati GT is a credit to its owner, but the limited production MC Stradale is was built for the man who loves sheer speed and unbridled handling while still riding in comfort. Lighter than a standard GT the Stradale is powered by a 4.7-liter, 460+ hp V-8 engine with diamond-coated cams and a fuel management system borrowed from F-1 racers. Capable of reaching speeds in excess of 187 mph the car also has the muscle to jump from 0 to 60 mph in close to 4 seconds.
Lionel’s R8 Spyder is a first-generation model which was only available with a 4.2-liter V8 engine capable of producing 428 bhp. Still when you consider it was one of the first supercars to use Audi’s Quattro AWD tech, an aluminum frame and is still one of the coolest looking cars ever produced especially in the convertible cabriolet version that Messi owns and its sub 190 mph speed is easy to forgive. While not the latest or greatest, this car is already considered a ground-breaker destined to become a classic.
OK, we understand that when you own an MC Stradale and every day, GranTurismo S is kind of hard to get excited about, but everyone needs a daily driver right. Messi’s is an early model that came with the same 4.7-liter V-8 as the Stradale minus the high-tech fuel management system, diamond cams, and about 12 hp. Nevertheless, it is still a magnificent car to look at. Driving is a little different story as the car came with a 6-speed robotized manual gearbox that has thankfully been dropped from the line.
Before you get the wrong idea, not widely known in the U.S., Tata is one of the world’s largest automobile companies, and Messi just happens to be their spokesman in over 100 countries. As such it shouldn’t be surprising that Lionel owns several of their cars including a green SUV, a fast estate wagon and one of their entry-level hatchbacks that the company purportedly named after his oldest son.
Messi may not be so keen on paying his taxes, but the man does have kids and likes to think he is doing his part to make the world a little cleaner place for them. Part of his efforts on this front is occasionally driving a partially electric Lexus RX 450h. The SUV he has chosen comes with a 3.5-liter V6 engine along with three electric motors for a total output of 264 hp. The vehicle can be operated as a pure electric with two motors driving the front transaxle and one powering the rear chunk.
Did we happen to mention that Lionel is also the European and South American spokesman for Auto Union Deutschland Ingolstadt or AUDI as most North Americans call the company. Of course, you would expect the company many to drive a company car, at least on occasion. Messi’s choice is a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8 powered station wagon that puts out 590 bhp and is equipped with Audi’s Quattro AWD and height-adjustable suspension for a safe, smooth ride in any terrain.
No car collection is complete without a dancing pony to anchor its reputation, and as a man who knows his cars, Messi has one of the finest models that Ferrari ever produced. The Ferrari F430 Spider isn’t the most fleet of all the cars that Ferrari ever produced, but its naturally aspirated 4.3-liter V-8 engine and 4-inch pipes give it a ground-shaking rumble that has rarely been matched. Maybe Leo uses it to drown out the memory of missed penalty kicks.
The pride of Messi’s collection, as it would be anyone’s, is one of 40 original 2003 Pagani Zonda Roadsters ever built. Powered by a modified 7.3-liter naturally aspirated V-12 Mercedes-AMG engine putting out 547 hp and generating 553 lb-ft of torque, and with a master shifting the close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission this little beast can jump from 0 to 62 mph in 3.7 seconds and 0-100 in under 7. Naturally with all that power onboard it had the very latest traction control system and the largest ABS brakes available when built.
Second only to Lionel Messi in terms of cash on hand mainly due to when their contracts were renewed, Cristiano Ronaldo, captain of the Portuguese national team and key player for Real Madrid, is still bringing home well over $100M a year. Just like his Argentinean compatriot, he is a true gearhead but loves to live a little more exciting lifestyle. Flamboyant and outspoken, his car collection is a true expression of his personality on and off the pitch.
Aston Martin introduced the DB9 in 2003 and Cristie was one of the first in line. Though there have been several upgrades to the line since these initial offerings, Ronaldo takes great pride in keeping his all original as any true collector would. Powered by a naturally aspirated 5.9-liter V12 engine that delivers a maximum power output of 451 hp and peaks at 420 ft-lb of torque the DB9 hits 62mph in 4.6sec and has a top-end speed of 190 mph.
Real Madrid and Ronaldo have a promotional contract with Audi and besides the nice coin the deal ads to his bank account, it also came with a company car for him to use. Being a true gearhead, he picked the latest and greatest they had to offer that he didn’t already own. His choice as a 4.0-liter V8 twin-turbo powered Audi S8 that delivers a maximum output of 512 hp and peak torque of 479 lb-ft making it the fastest sedan the company has ever offered.
‘GTB’ stands for Gran Turismo Berlinetta, and Ferrari introduced this model to supposedly deliver a greater amount of driving pleasure to its customers. We are not sure how you increase driving pleasure over any of the company’s cars but with a 366 cubic inch V-12 engine producing 612 hp and 448 lb-ft of torque tied to a transmission that is a direct transfer from an F-1 single-seater and riding on a suspension borrowed from the same, the 599 GTB it is a damn good effort. Too bad Cristiano Ronaldo crashed his in 2009.
Lambos have always been a favorite among European footballers so you would have to expect one of these stallions to reside in Chris’s stable. The Aventador LP 700-4 is the latest offering from the company and features a naturally aspirated 6.5-liter V12 engine that can deliver on-demand a maximum power output of 700 hp and peak torque of 509 lb-ft of torque, all-wheel steering, and 4-wheel active suspension. Strangely, this is the one car Ronaldo has reportedly never wrecked, but it is fairly new to him.
A McLaren MP4-12 C HS that was second sports care Ronaldo ever bought is still the crown jewel of his collection and makes him the envy of collectors around the world. The 592 hp, 3.8-litre twin-turbo V8 powered MP4s are rare. The HS models are ultra-rare and High Sports that have been fully customized by McLaren Special Operations to improve their aerodynamics and handling. Anything is possible but don’t count on seeing either one in your lifetime.