Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. According to a 2014 FIFA survey, more than 265 million people are actively involved soccer, and while the United States has only caught onto the sport in the last decade or so, the players on the pitch are some of the most influential and famous people, let alone athletes, in the world.
Their devoted followings range from the diehard fans who are able to rattle off their stats and accolades of a season from a decade ago to the casual observer stumbling into a World Cup screening and first getting into the beautiful game. Their social media game is more popping than the biggest influencers you can think of, and their presence in the European tabloids would make the Kardashians blush with envy. In the United States, we may have LeBron James and Tom Brady, but in terms of pure popularity, name recognition, and fame, few athletes can hold a candle to soccer’s biggest stars. During the biggest soccer tournaments, when the whole world is watching, it can even feel like the fate of an entire country rests on whether or not its star footballer can come through for them.
If you need a primer on just who is holding the rapt attention of these fans around the world, these are some of the sport’s biggest names: They play for some of the most valuable sports franchises anywhere, from Manchester United to Real Madrid, and are among the most recognizable people on the planet. This crop of players possesses the level of fame where even the mere mention of their name can create a news cycle, trend on social media, evoke praise from fans and hatred from the opposition who have been burned by them in the past.
Soccer is a game of many positions and many opinions, so to make this list as controversy-free as possible, we’ve limited it to just the top players who are currently playing the beautiful game. These are the most famous soccer players today.