Nine of the top 10 most followed athletes on Instagram (as of September 2018) are footballers, or soccer players for all you Americans. Cristiano Ronaldo, who recently switched from Spanish powerhouse Barcelona to Italian contender Juventus, is the most followed athlete on the social media platform with nearly 140 million followers.
By comparison, the National Football League, the richest sports league in the world with 27 NFL teams on Forbes' survey of 50 most valuable sports teams, can’t touch the global version of football in terms of popularity. The NFL’s 32 teams have a combined 141 million followers on the three social media platforms of Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
That total lags behind Spanish soccer powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid, which on their own command 189 million followers and 180 million followers on the three social media platforms, respectively. For perspective, Ronaldo has a combined following of 336.5 million across the three main social media platforms (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter). Neymar Jr., the second-most followed athlete, reaches a combined 203 million followers. Lionel Messi has 97.8 million on Instagram and doesn't use Facebook or Twitter.
The following is a list of 25 rising stars of international football — the top young football talent that could one day move into the stratosphere of Ronaldo and Messi in terms of popularity, skill set and athletic potential.