The Most Popular Soccer Players in the World

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar are the three most popular footballers in the world, per new Morning Consult data from nine countries
December 05, 2022 at 5:00 am UTC

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar is unlike any World Cup before it. The first one in the Arab world and the first to be played outside the traditional months of June and July, the Qatar World Cup is already unprecedented — and that’s before you wade into the tournament’s many controversies, which include the host country’s human rights record.

With all of that tumult as a backdrop, Morning Consult surveyed soccer fans in the United States and eight other countries to uncover their interest in the tournament, favorite teams and players and thoughts on the various controversies, all while looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup in North America.

To read all of our other stories: Most Popular TeamsU.S. Sponsors | U.S. Fan Expectations | U.S. Planned Viewership | Alexi Lalas Q&A

Lionel Messi may be criticized at times for not having a World Cup trophy on his shelf, but that hasn’t hurt his popularity among soccer fans around the world. The Argentina superstar is the world’s most popular player, according to a series of new Morning Consult surveys conducted in nine countries. 

Lionel Messi, who is playing in his likely final World Cup, earned the highest net favorability rating in four of the nine countries surveyed, including in Brazil, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom. The surveys included 44 soccer stars appearing at this year’s World Cup in Qatar. (It did not include emerging Norwegian star Erling Haaland, because Norway did not qualify for the tournament.) 

The Paris Saint-Germain forward finished among the top three players in eight countries among self-identified soccer fans, with the lone outlier being in Germany, where he tied for fifth.

Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo was the only other player to finish first in multiple countries: the United States and Australia. Ronaldo, who left Manchester United last month and is not a member of a club team at the moment, and Brazil’s Neymar were among the top three most popular players in five and three different countries, respectively.

American star Christian Pulisic, who scored the winning goal in the U.S. team’s victory over Iran to send the team into the knockout rounds, did not appear in his home country’s top 10.

Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar Are World’s Most Popular Soccer Players

Net favorability rating* among self-identified soccer fans in the following nine countries:
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*Net favorability rating is the share of respondents with a favorable opinion minus the share with an unfavorable opinion.
Surveys conducted between Oct. 19-Nov. 27, 2022, among representative samples of 95-319 self-identified soccer fans, with unweighted margins of error ranging from +/-5 percentage points to +/-10 percentage points.

The numbers behind the world’s most popular footballers 

  • Among Brazilian soccer fans, Messi ranked as the most popular player with a net favorability rating of 76, 1 point ahead of Ronaldo and 11 points in front of top Brazilian native Vinícius Jr.
  • Neymar, the fourth-most popular Brazilian player in his home country, had the highest unfavorable rating among all players in France (25%), Germany (34%) and Japan (15%). 
  • In three of the nine nations, a native-born player ranked as the most popular footballer: France’s N’Golo Kanté, Germany’s Thomas Müller and Poland’s Robert Lewandowski. 
  • Pulisic was one of the least popular soccer players among the 44 individuals included in the survey. About 1 in 4 American soccer fans (26%) said they had a favorable opinion of the Hershey, Pa., native, while about 1 in 3 of the same share of respondents (34%) had a similar opinion about Canadian star Alphonso Davies.
  • French star Kylian Mbappé, who is the highest-paid player in the World Cup, finished sixth in his home nation. He scored a net favorability rating of 63, 2 points below fellow countryman Karim Benzema.

Dollars and sense 

The world’s most popular soccer stars — Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar — are also among the highest-paid players in the World Cup. In 2022, Ronaldo earned $113 million between his salary and marketing deals, good for second behind Mbappé, according to Sportico. Messi and Neymar rounded out the top four. Messi’s endorsement deals with Anheuser-Busch InBev SA’s Budweiser, Adidas AG and PepsiCo Inc., among several others, are said to be worth nearly $50 million.

The surveys were conducted between Oct. 19-Nov. 27, 2022, among representative samples of 95-319 self-identified soccer fans, with unweighted margins of error ranging from plus or minus 5 percentage points to plus or minus 10 percentage points. Countries surveyed include the United States, Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Poland and the United Kingdom.

A headshot photograph of Mark J. Burns
Mark J. Burns
Sports Analyst

Mark J. Burns previously worked at Morning Consult as a sports analyst.

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