Despite a disappointing season on the pitch, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) star Lionel Messi was the highest-paid athlete in the world in the last 12 months, according to Forbes.

The Argentine soccer star earned a pre-tax gross income of $130 million a year from his activities on and off the pitch, putting him ahead of LeBron James and rival Cristiano Ronaldo on the list of the richest.

Messi earns about $75 million a year from playing soccer and also collects $55 million from endorsement deals.

It is the second time that the Argentine is at the top of the Forbes list; the last time was in 2019.

The top 10 earners, who are all men, collectively brought in $992 million in gross earnings, before taxes, last year.

Messi has drawn criticism for some of his off-field sponsorships, most recently promoting tourism to Saudi Arabia. He was photographed in the country and posted a photo on his personal Instagram account with the hashtag #VisitSaudi.

The country has long been accused of using sport to hide its poor human rights record.

“Recent additions to Messi’s sources of income: Qatar, the controversial cryptocurrency company Socios and Saudi Arabia. The man has to eat,” the New York Times journalist Tariq Panja tweeted.

Citizen Free Press reached out to Messi’s representatives for comment but did not get an immediate response.

Messi has had a disappointing debut season at PSG.

NBA superstar LeBron James is a close second on the rich list, at $121.2 million a year.

The Los Angeles Lakers forward missed the playoffs this season, but dominated off the court, earning money from his talk show and starring in last year’s movie “Space Jam: A New Legacy”.

Forbes estimates that James is now worth a staggering $850 million.

Cristiano Ronaldo rounds out the top three, earning $115 million after moving from Juventus to Manchester United.

The Portuguese superstar earns as much as Messi off the pitch, with most of it coming from his unrivaled social media presence.

Ronaldo has 690 million followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, which allows him to obtain higher income from sponsorship of various companies.

Forbes calculates estimates based on prize money, salaries and bonuses, as well as estimates of endorsement deals and other off-field sources of income.

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