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For Messi and Ronaldo, now is the best time to monetize talent.

The triumph of the Argentina national team at the World Cup in Qatar elevated Lionel Messi to the level of almost the leading football celestial in the game's history. Leo added numerous trophies to the collection, including seven Ballons d'Or, the primary missing element being the World Cup. This victory allowed the Argentinean to add 30 million subscribers in Instagram and further increase the already powerful marketing potential.

It seemed that the departure from the 2022 World Cup of the Portuguese national team at the 1/4 final stage would hit the Argentinean's main competitor, Cristiano Ronaldo, hard, but this did not happen. After the World Cup, which failed from an individual point of view, subscribers did not leave the striker - on the contrary, there were 20 million more. These are decent numbers for the Portuguese, given the results of Leo and Cristiano in Qatar. And this means that Ronaldo remains the record holder in terms of the number of subscribers not only among athletes but, in general, all the inhabitants of the planet - 532 million. And at the beginning of the year, he signed a crazy contract with the Saudi Al Nassr for € 200 million a year.

We analyze how the World Cup affected not only the image component of the two most talented players of the era but also assess their marketing potential for the coming years and the period after the end of outstanding careers.

Messi strummed the guitar while Ronaldo worked on himself

No matter how high Messi takes off, his competitor has an obvious advantage - Ronaldo understood the importance of promoting his brand much earlier. Remember Leo a few years ago: the usual hairstyle, shyness during interviews, low activity on social networks, where he mainly posted photos with his wife and children. The Argentinean needed to be more active to start a Twitter, which indicates the absence of professionals in his team - the striker's father Jorge and older brother Rodrigo are doing business. At the same time, top agent Jorge Mendes promoted Cristiano for many years, as well as the man who knocked out the fattest deal for him with Al Nassr.

"Ronaldo was making big money long before Messi started to raise his head", says Simon Chadwick, professor of sports and geopolitical economics at the French business school SKEMA. - When Cristiano moved from Manchester United to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, he drew attention to the transfer with a massive party in Los Angeles with actress and socialite Paris Hilton. Rumor has it that this was all staged for marketing purposes, like the subsequent romance of a football player with model Irina Shayk.
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There needs to be more than outstanding football ability to create a global brand, as companies and consumers want to have a sense of the player as an individual. Messi conquered the Spanish-speaking world, but in the English-speaking community, the idea of his human qualities is limited - Leo does not speak English, which once again characterizes his attitude towards brand promotion.

Instead of the hobby of strumming the guitar in the garden in the evenings, as he often did in Barcelona, one could devote time to learning foreign languages. On the other hand, Ronaldo developed his English skills remarkably during his seven years at Manchester United - the so-called "lingua franca" (a language or dialect systematically used for communication between people whose native languages are other) is very important for the commercial world.

Ronaldo's contract with Al Nassr - checkmate Mbappe and Messi

"Ronaldo has excelled in key areas", said Adrian Wright, director of the Sporting Group agency and former marketing manager for England's West Brom. – "He played in Portugal, England, Spain, Italy, then England again, and now Saudi Arabia. This is especially important for coverage - after all, the national football leagues of most of these countries are popular in the most remote corners of the planet. Ronaldo has turned to the Asian market and won the attention of fans from the subcontinent."

Despite spending the best and best part of his career at the top of Barcelona, which helped him become a global superstar, Messi has been on TV a little in the past two seasons. This is because the French Ligue 1 is noticeably inferior to the Spanish La Liga in popularity, not to mention the English Premier League. More than highlights in the Champions League are needed to produce the desired effect.

The crown of the world champion gave Leo football immortality, but he is still in the role of catching up because he realized himself late. He only started working on his image in 2016, when he grew a full beard for America's Cup. "I wanted this for a long time, but the contract with Gillette interfered; when we broke up, I decided not to shave", the Argentine justified. The image and recognizable style cost more than several million from the manufacturer of accessories for shaving and body care, Leo. This is evidence of the weak selectivity of the Argentinean, which today could significantly improve his position in the Forbes ranking.
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In October last year, the American financial and economic magazine stated that the era of dominance in earnings by Ronaldo and Messi, which lasted from 2014, has ended. Kylian Mbappe has risen to number one on Forbes. At the end of 2022, the French striker PSG earned $ 128 million ($ 110 million on the football field and $ 18 million through commercial contracts). Messi's income was $120 million (65+55), and Ronaldo's $100 million (40+60). There is no doubt that in the new ranking, Cristiano will outperform competitors thanks to an agreement with Al Nassr - checkmate and checkmate of the two heroes of the 2022 World Cup final.

However, events in this race are developing so rapidly that everything can change this summer. As you know, Messi's contract with PSG ends in six months - the Parisians are negotiating with the star, but it remains to be seen whether the player will stay at the club. On the one hand, his family has already adapted to the capital of France, and the children go to school; on the other hand, Ronaldo's wide smile looms in a club shirt that agreed to pay the Portuguese € 200 million per season. And then there was an offer from Al Nassr's competitors - according to Mundo Deportivo, Al-Hilal is ready to sign Messi and pay him $ 300 million a year.

Messi dreams of a fifth European Cup, but the money won't wait

Messi's decision on this issue will largely depend on whether PSG realizes another dream of the Argentine this year - Leo wants to win the Champions League for the fifth time in his career. In any case, the Saudis have an advantage because both the victory and the relegation of the Parisians to the playoffs can induce decisive actions of the striker - the second is even preferable for them. Also, remember that Messi is the Ambassador of Saudi Arabia for the promotion of tourism in the Islamic State. It is even believed that with this deal, Leo sold himself to the devil and "betrayed" Argentina.

Another motive for Messi to trade PSG for a fantastic contract is to understands the moment's importance. People have a short memory, so it is necessary to strike while the iron is hot and monetize the victory in the World Cup as much as possible. The Qatari owners of the Parisian club have as much money as the Saudis but are limited by financial fair play. And finally, his age is another motive for Messi to say goodbye to European football in favor of a deal of his life. In June, the legend will turn 36 years old.
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Leo and Cristiano realize that there will most likely never be a more favorable moment in their careers to realize their marketing potential to the maximum. And yet, Ronaldo has a more pragmatic and balanced approach than his competitor. One gets the feeling that the Argentine is ready to promote everything indiscriminately – over the past year, he has advertised video games, beer makers, cryptocurrency exchanges, and fan tokens. With the latter, it turned out so-so - recently they have noticeably fallen in price.

Whatever the current state of affairs, both players will likely follow the path of other tops and advertise brands closer to their age category. Therefore, Ronaldo has been trying for several years to cultivate the image of a family man, publishing messages about his common-law wife Georgina Rodriguez, and children and less and less associated with the idea of a brutal playboy.

David Beckham and Roger Federer did the same. At one point, the Briton traded Armani for a contract with department store chain Marks & Spencer, highlighting the England legend's shift from prestige sexy brand to a middle-class brand. Federer was the face of Nike for a long time, but then the tennis player went to the casual wear brand Uniqlo. This happened at the moment when his second set of twins was born. The income of Messi and Ronaldo will fall, and much will depend on selectivity and the ability to bet on a specific audience.