Altruists United: 11 of the Most Charitable Players in Football

23.12.2021

We all know that big-league football players are some of the best-paid sports stars on the planet, but relatively few of us realise that they can also be some of the most supportive of good causes. Since it's the season of goodwill right now, we thought we'd create Altruists United - a "dream team" of 11 of the most charitable players in football. Consider this our standing ovation for the players who make a real difference off the pitch as well as on it.

Most charitable football players.

Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, Premier League)

Manchester United's Marcus Rashford has been working very hard to raise awareness of homelessness and child poverty over the last couple of years. In October 2019, he and Selfridges launched an In the Box initiative to provide essentials for those visiting homeless shelters over the Christmas period. That alone would have been commendable, but he also invested time and energy in handing boxes out personally.

During the first pandemic lockdown in the UK in March 2020, Rashford focused on the plight of children who were no longer able to benefit from free school meals. He originally wanted to make a "sizeable donation" to a food waste charity called FareShare, but then went even further and put his efforts into fundraising work. His involvement helped to raise more than £20 million and provide millions of free meals to those in need.

And that was only the beginning. Rashford has since become one of the biggest campaigners in the UK for those struggling with homelessness and poverty. His open letter to the UK government in June 2020 led to a turnaround in its policy on free school meals, and his efforts to make a real change have continued to this day. 

It's impossible to quantify the cumulative difference that the 24-year-old has made in this important area, but we do know that many millions of lives have been improved through his work. That work has also been recognised in some very public ways. These include him receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Manchester and being made an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 2020.

Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester City, Premier League)

35-year-old Kasper Schmeichel currently earns his keep as the goalkeeper for English Premier League club Leicester City as well as the Danish national team. But when he isn't saving goals on the pitch, he spends a lot of time and money helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate.

Back in 2017, Schmeichel was the fifth Premier League player to sign up for the Common Goal program that supports football charities worldwide. That involved him giving one per cent of his salary to the charity, and it was only one of the ways in which Schmeichel has been making a difference. He is a keen supporter of many other charities, from Age UK to those that help vulnerable children in his home country of Denmark.

Héctor Bellerín (Real Betis, La Liga / Arsenal, Premier League)

Héctor Bellerín is on loan from Arsenal and playing for La Liga club Real Betis. While his day job is focused on kicking a ball around, in his spare time, the Spanish-born player makes a point of speaking out about veganism and environmental issues.

Bellerín himself has been a vegan since 2017. He views veganism as being a lifestyle that is as good for the environment as it is for physical health, and he is keen to spread that message.

Of course, the 26-year-old does far more than simply talk about these issues. He also backs up his words with cold hard cash. For example, last year he teamed up with a charity called One Tree Planted, which focuses on reforestation. As well as speaking openly about that issue, he pledged to plant 3,000 trees for every win achieved by Arsenal before the end of the 2019/20 season.

Jordan Henderson (Liverpool, Premier League)

The NHS in England always works hard to safeguard the health of the nation, but over the last couple of years, that hasn't been at all easy. After seeing how workers on the NHS frontline were struggling themselves, even as they cared for others, Liverpool player Jordan Henderson decided to do something about it.

Henderson's idea was to create a Players Together initiative. This allowed football players to donate a part of their salaries to a fund set up specifically for NHS workers and 'other key areas of need'. The initiative was warmly welcomed and launched in April 2020 with £4 million in pledges already in place.

While Henderson's Players Together initiative has grabbed the most headlines, the midfielder has also worked hard to help a number of other causes. These include raising awareness about bullying on his social media profiles and campaigning on behalf of food banks.

Juan Mata (Manchester United, Premier League)

Juan Mata might be best known for his work on the pitch at Old Trafford, but he's also achieved some great things for the less fortunate. Perhaps one of the most notable is his co-founding of the Common Goal charity. This was set up in 2017 to support a variety of football charities globally.

The idea behind Common Goal is simple. Professional football players and coaches are invited to pledge one per cent of their annual salaries to the charity so that the money can be distributed around the world. Football is a sport that can unite communities, encourage social development and give people a sense of purpose and direction, and Common Goal exists to help it do all of that more effectively.

Lionel Messi (PSG, Ligue 1)

Having spent most of his career with Barcelona, Lionel Messi now focuses on scoring goals for Paris Saint-Germain. The 34-year-old forward has been a keen supporter of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) since 2004. In fact, he was so involved that UNICEF made him a Goodwill Ambassador in 2010 - a role that Messi has embraced fully despite his hectic professional schedule.

In 2007, when he was worth a reported £310 million, he formed the Leo Messi Foundation to help give children greater access to health care and education in multiple countries. Messi put a great deal of his own money into the Foundation and has also been instrumental in fundraising and distribution of funds. For example, the Foundation invested an estimated £30 million into building a new pediatric centre in Barcelona. And that is just one of many projects that have been made possible thanks to Messi's altruistic nature.

Mesut Özil (Fenerbahce, Turkish League)

When Turkish Süper Lig club Fenerbahçe signed Mesut Özil, it didn't just get a supremely talented midfielder, but also a hugely respected philanthropist. The German-born player was on the squad of his national team from 2009 to 2018, and he earned a reported £240,000 for his part in the 2014 World Cup. He donated all of that cash to pay for 23 Brazilian children who needed surgery for medical conditions.

That is just one demonstration of Özil's generosity, and there are plenty more. For example, in 2017, he invited a child with cancer to watch a game from the player's lounge at Emirates Stadium. In 2019 he paid for 1,000 children to have surgery. And in 2021, he worked with the Turkish Red Crescent organisation to send much-needed food packages to more than three dozen provinces.

Neymar (PSG, Ligue 1)

Neymar is so big in the world of football that he doesn't even need a surname, but his heart is even bigger. The 20-year-old Brazilian, who currently plays for Paris Saint-Germain, is a committed Christian.

One of the tenets of the Christian faith is giving discreetly rather than for public attention, but sometimes the cat is let out of the bag, and Neymar's generosity becomes common knowledge. An example of this came to light in April 2020, when Brazilian TV named Neymar as the source of a £775,000 anonymous donation to a charity fighting coronavirus.

Nobody knows how often Neymar has done this kind of thing without it ever being revealed. What we do know is that his family has its own charitable organisation, the Instituto Projeto Neymar Jr., that has been operating in Brazil since 2014. This has helped to transform the lives of more than 10,000 children, young people and their families, and Neymar plays a key role in its work.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United, Premier League)

Cristiano Ronalda is a football hero to many, and while he is viewed as being rather controversial at times, he is also a key player in our dream team of the most generous players around.

The Manchester Utd forward was voted World's Most Charitable Athlete in 2015 after making a slew of gifts to a variety of good causes, and that generous spirit continues to this day. 

Recipients of his philanthropic favour include Save the Children, World Vision and UNICEF. Ronaldo has also given aid and assistance to numerous individuals in need over the years, with many getting potentially life-saving surgery thanks to his help.

Kylian Mbappé (PSG, Ligue 1)

Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappé is only 22 years old, but he's already made a big mark as both a footballer and an altruist. In 2018, when he was just 19, he made headlines for donating around £400,000 to a children's charity. That was the amount of money he'd earned from his participation in the French national side that won the Russia 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Mbappé has made many other generous donations to good causes, but he went even further last year by founding his own charity called Inspired by KM. The aim of the charity is to support 98 children from all social backgrounds and help them to achieve their own dreams, just as Mbappé has achieved his.

Mario Balotelli (Adana Demirspor, Turkish League)

Mario Balotelli has a reputation for being outrageous at times, but few people realise just how charitable he is. 31-year-old Balotelli, who now dominates the pitch as a striker for Adana Demirspor in the Turkish Süper Lig, is said to have been giving away a significant percentage of his salary for some time. 

Various reports have described that percentage as being around the 50% mark, but so far, it hasn't been possible to either verify or deny such reports. What we do know is that the striker is a strong supporter of good causes in Africa, as well as being generous to people closer to home. This includes homeless individuals who have been gifted as much as £1,000 on the spot by the kind-hearted player.

Three Cheers for Eleven Good Men

Our Altruistic United team might be fictional, but the giving nature of the football players we've adopted for our fantasy formation is as real as it gets. We applaud these eleven men for their immense generosity, and we hope that their charitable acts have inspired you as much as they have us. We might not have as much money as these football icons, but we can all give something to help improve the lives of those around us, even if it's just a smile or an hour or two of our time. And that's a goal worth pursuing no matter who we are.

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