Gone are the days when fans used to grow up supporting their local heroes and local teams. Thanks to football's massive global outreach football players are some of the most well-known professionals around the world and enjoy the same status as any other celebrity.
We are well and truly living in the age of social media now and just like any other normal person football players also have a presence on the 'Big Three' online platforms - Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Though it might be impossible to figure out how many fans any player has, social media provides a fairly accurate metric in measuring the popularity of the player. On that note, here we take a look at the top 10 football players with the most fans across the world, based on social media followers.
All figures as on 18 September 2020
#10 Mesut Ozil - Arsenal
Total followers - 77.9 million
At number 10 in our list, we have Arsenal star Mesut Ozil, who has a massive 77.9 million fanbase across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The German playmaker has not been his best on the pitch for the last few seasons but his history with Real Madrid and success with the national team means that he remains hugely popular among fans.
The player made everyone fall in love with him with his silky moves and accurate passes in the first half of the last decade but has since given up his spot in the national team and has barely been involved in the Gunners' tumultuous campaigns.
Recently he has been vocal about his immigrant background on social media and some of his posts with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have caused some controversy over the last two years.
Here's how his 77.9 million fans are distributed across the social media -
Facebook - 30.9 million likes
Twitter - 24.9 million followers
Instagram - 22.1 million followers
#9 Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid
Total followers - 81.7 million
People online usually respond to uniqueness and passion, Sergio Ramos brings a lot of both to the table and thus enjoys a healthy fanbase of 81.7 million. The defender is fiercely competitive on the pitch and extremely active social media as well, posting over 1890 times on Instagram till date.
He has time and again done whatever it takes to get the better of his opponents but he has always delivered results. He is still one of the best defenders in Europe and thus we can only expect his following to grow in the coming years.
Here's how his 81.7 million fans are distributed across the social media -
Facebook - 23.3 million likes
Twitter - 17.6 million followers
Instagram - 40.8 million followers
#8 Andres Iniesta - Vissel Kobe
Total followers - 85.7 million
Another former La Liga player joining our list is Barcelona and Spain icon Andres Iniesta. Considered by many as one of the greatest midfielders of all-time, the La Masia academy product is a highly respected athlete and is one of the few opposition players to have received a standing ovation at the Santiago Bernabeu.
He is not among the most tech-savvy footballers and despite the huge following, his posts generate much less interaction than athletes with smaller followings like Eden Hazard.
Here's how his 85.7 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 26 million likes
Twitter - 24.9 million followers
Instagram - 34.8 million followers
#7 Gareth Bale - Real Madrid
Total followers - 88.5 million
Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale shot to fame in the summer of 2013 when the Spanish giants broke the transfer fee record for the Welshman. For the first few seasons, he lived up to his hefty price tag and impressed with his stunning performances and racked up a lot of trophies.
Though he is currently out of favour with Zinedine Zidane, he's still got his skills and continues to display them for his national team. He's been linked with a move back to the Premier League with his former employers Tottenham Hotspur and if he can succeed there he'll probably pick up a few more fans online.
Here's how his 88.5 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 27 million likes
Twitter - 18.4 million followers
Instagram - 43.1 million followers
#6 James Rodriguez - Everton
Total followers - 96.5 million
It seems signing for Real Madrid is a sure-shot way of ensuring visibility on social media as yet another former Los Blancos star in James Rodriguez makes it onto the list.
The Columbian midfielder had spent half of his spell with the reigning La Liga champions on loan spells and it made sense that he finally secured a permanent move to Everton this summer.
His popularity across social media skyrocketed following his eye-catching performances at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the subsequent move to clubs like Real Madrid and Bayern Munich only added to his fanbase.
Here's how his 96.5 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 31.6 million likes
Twitter - 18.7 million followers
Instagram - 46.2 million followers
Total followers - 105.4 million
Ronaldinho is first of the two retired footballers in our list and the very fact that he remains the fifth-most followed football personality in the world, five years after he hung up his boots is a testament to his likeability, legacy and of course the kind of content he generates online.
He always approached the game with a smile on his face and enjoyed every minute of it and it's because of his passion and love for the game that he has a special place among football icons.
He was recently arrested in Paraguay over the alleged use of fake passports and though he has since been released that might've tarnished his image a little bit.
Here's how his 105.4 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 34.1 million likes
Twitter - 19.5 million followers
Instagram - 51.8 million followers
#4 David Beckham
Total followers - 115.4 million
The second retired footballer in our list is none other than David Beckham, who has made a seamless transition into a successful entrepreneur and public figure after bidding adieu to his career as a professional footballer in 2013.
With all the glamour that now surrounds him, it's easy to discount his abilities as a footballer. Even during his playing days he was never shy in front of the cameras and became a household name across the world with his trademark free-kicks. His physics-defying free-kicks even inspired a movie called Bend It Like Beckham in 2002.
The former Manchester United man could've had even more followers online if he had a Twitter account but that wouldn't have mattered because he still would've been at No.4 in this list as the top three are in a league of their own.
Here's how his 115.4 million fans are distributed across the social media -
Facebook - 51.1 million likes
Instagram - 64.3 million followers
#3 Neymar - Paris Saint-Germain
Total followers - 251.1 million
Neymar is a player that is widely known for his propensity for luxury and partying as much as he is renowned for his performances on the pitch. The Brazilian forward became the world's most expensive player in 2017 but even before that, he was a full-fledged celebrity having enjoyed a fruitful spell with Barcelona.
The player has a whopping 4800 posts on his Instagram, thus we know that he loves to share almost everything with his 142 million followers. He had a very good season with PSG in the 2019-20 campaign, leading the club to their first-ever UEFA Champions League final.
Here's how his 251.1 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 59.7 million likes
Twitter - 49.4 million followers
Instagram - 142 million followers
#2 Lionel Messi - Barcelona
Total followers - 256.5 million
Lionel Messi, arguably the best footballer in the world at the moment has more followers on Instagram alone than fourth-placed David Beckham. He has gradually dethroned his former teammate Neymar from the second spot over the year, despite not having an official Twitter account. Adidas runs a handle called Team Messi and is the closest things to Messi's twitter account right now.
The Barcelona captain is known to be a reserved person and lets his performance on the pitch do all the talking and this reflects in his social media activity as well. Most of his posts are his team related, awareness videos or sponsorship ones and he rarely shares details of his personal life online.
Here's how his 256.5 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 90.5 million likes
Instagram - 166 million followers
#1 Cristiano Ronaldo - Juventus
Total followers - 447.9 million followers
When it comes to social media presence there's only one king in football and that is Cristiano Ronaldo, who leads second-placed Messi by almost 200 million. He is the most liked person on Facebook, the most followed person on Instagram and fifth-most followed person on Twitter, and also the only sports personality in the top 10.
The 35-year-old has been at the pinnacle of world football for more than a decade and his association with some of the biggest names in the game - Manchester United, Real Madrid and now Juventus have helped him build a fanbase that is about to cross the half a billion mark by the end of the year.
As per a report published last year he earns more money from his sponsorship deals on Instagram than in wages with Juventus. His posts have a healthy mix of personal photos, professional photos and paid content.
Since April he has added close to 30 million followers to his fanbase and the number is only expected to grow as the player is showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Here's how his 447.9 million fans are distributed across social media -
Facebook - 123.1 million likes
Twitter - 87.8 million followers
Instagram - 237 million followers