When the World Cup kicks off in two months, it seems certain that Portugal and Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo will head into the tournament as the most powerful player in the world — at least in terms of his social media influence.
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Ronaldo beat archrival Lionel Messi to top a list collated by sport media analysts Nielsen, which assessed the Instagram followings of all of the top players and teams set to take part in Qatar to discover who has the most online muscle.
Based on Instagram measurements taken from August 2021 to July 2022, the rankings were created using Nielsen’s tailor-made influencer metric. It takes into consideration various key performance indicators (KPIs), such as an Instagram account’s total followers, follower growth rate, content engagement rate and average brand value per post (commercial value for brand to associate with the player).
With all the relevant data crunched, Ronaldo emerged on top in the World Cup stakes with a fairly comfortable margin between himself and his rivals, proving that the 37-year-old’s social media influence is — if anything — stronger than ever.
As well as the most powerful players set to appear at the World Cup, Nielsen has also created rankings for the most powerful men’s national teams, as well as a separate ranking for the tournament’s most powerful young breakthrough stars — i.e. the players with the biggest growth surge on social media over the last year.
The World Cup’s most powerful players on Instagram
1. Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano), Portugal/Manchester United
As one of the most famous footballers of all time it’s perhaps not surprising to find that Ronaldo commands a vast legion of approximately 480 million followers on Instagram alone, an enormous total that has swollen by around 47% in the past year since his return to Man United, with each post carrying an estimated value of around $3,585,218.
2. Lionel Messi (@leomessi), Argentina/Paris Saint-Germain
While lagging behind his eternal rival in the battle for Instagram supremacy, Messi boasts a perfectly respectable follower count of around 360 million, the result of a similarly impressive growth rate of 38% over the past 12 months — during which time he left Barcelona for PSG. It is also calculated that each of the 35-year-old’s posts carry a hefty brand value of $2,631,388.
3. Neymar (@neymarjr), Brazil/Paris Saint-Germain
Messi is joined on the podium by his PSG teammate Neymar, who is by far and away the biggest Instagram draw that Brazil has to offer heading into the World Cup. The 30-year-old has a follower count of roughly 178 million, which has increased a mere 13% between August 2021 and July 2022, with each post possessing a value of $1,152,495.
The top five is completed by PSG’s France international striker Kylian Mbappe (72 million) and Brazilian Vinicius Junior (21.8 million), and the latter has seen his follower count go up by almost 90% in the last year — the highest growth rate of any player in the entire Top 10 — after a superb 12 months with Real Madrid.
The World Cup’s most powerful breakthrough players on Instagram
1. Gavi (@pablogavi), Spain/Barcelona
Despite his tender years, Spain’s talented 18-year-old midfielder already has an Instagram following of approximately 6.2 million and rising, with his account growth rate pitched at a phenomenal 5,165% in the past year. An impressive showing at Qatar 2022 will only see those numbers increase.
2. Raphinha (@raphinha), Brazil/Barcelona
A marquee transfer from Leeds United to Barcelona in July 2022 has helped Raphinha’s Instagram follower count swell to around 3 million, a near 900% increase from the previous August.
3. Antony (@antony00), Brazil/Manchester United
Again, a headline transfer to one of the world’s most famous clubs has seen Antony’s Instagram following jump up around 211% in the past few months to roughly 4.9 million. A goal on his Man United debut no doubt helped to increase the numbers even further.
Another Barcelona player, Pedri, appears in fourth place, but there’s a surprise name in fifth: Argentina international Rodrigo De Paul, who plays for Atletico Madrid.
The World Cup’s most powerful national teams on Instagram
1. France (@equipedefrance)
With star names like Kylian Mbappe and Karim Benzema in tow, Les Bleus were clocked by Nielsen has having a follower count of 11.7 million, with well over half (64.8%) of those followers located outside of France.
2. Brazil (@cbf_futebol)
The Selecao have a healthy follower count of 11.5 million, though only 35% of that tally originates from outside of Brazil.
3. Portugal (@portugal) 10.4 86.41
With Cristiano Ronaldo presumably attracting droves of fans from around the globe to the national team account, Portugal have a follower count of 10.4 million — a huge 86.4% living outside of the country.
England are fourth on the list of the most popular national teams, followed by Argentina in fifth.