After a disappointing season, the soccer superstar is eyeing the exit at Barcelona, but he still is on pace to reach that astronomical goal alongside Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather and, yes, Cristiano Ronaldo.

The only move Lionel Messi really needs to make to become soccer’s next billion-dollar man is none at all. If the star forward simply shows up at Barcelona’s Camp Nou in September, he will end the 2020-21 season with more than $1 billion in career earnings, a victory only three athletes before him have won.

It looks like the high-fives may have to wait. After a yearlong battle with FC Barcelona, the Argentine icon is threatening to leave the club after 16 years, ditching the final year of a contract that could make him the highest-paid player in what has become the world’s most lucrative sport. 

Messi’s arrival in the billion-dollar clubhouse will mark a climactic chapter in what has been soccer’s most expensive sideshow since 2009, when he and Ronaldo first faced off on competing teams in Spain’s La Liga. The strutting and often shirtless Ronaldo perfected the sport’s showman brand while the media-shy Messi was hailed as the modest one, more interested in his footwork than footwear, as prolific a goal scorer as a wingman and a master at crediting teamwork.

Ronaldo, who is two years older, has become the world’s most popular celebrity, with 443 million social followers across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter—and the most marketable athlete in the world, too. According to Hookit, which tracks social media sponsorship value, from January to July this year, he created $28 million in value for the brands he promoted through 275 social media posts and the 873 million engagements with them. He has a lifetime deal with Nike and a long-term partnership with Herbalife, as well as a lifestyle brand that started with his CR7 line of underwear in 2013 and has expanded to include shoes, perfume, denim, hotels, gyms and his latest offering introduced this month, sunglasses. Last season, Ronaldo earned $45 million of his $105 million off the pitch.

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