By Ben Hayward
It has long been considered a global game, but a new study reveals exactly how big football has become.
Figures published by French newspaper L'Equipe on Monday show that six of the world's 10 most popular sportsmen are footballers - according to the amount of 'fans' each one has on Facebook.
The world's most popular social network site is a pretty accurate barometer for the popularity of sports and athletes - and the numbers confirm a shift in popularity towards football.
|WORLD'S MOST POPULAR SPORTSMEN
|Athlete||Sport|| FB likes
That means there are just three sports: football (six representatives), basketball (three) and tennis (one). And no motor racing, no golf, American football, cycling, boxing, baseball, cricket or athletics - no Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Sebastian Vettel, Sachin Tendulkar, Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather or even Rafa Nadal.
Ronaldo and Messi (whose account was created later than that of the Portuguese) are way ahead of the field, with the ever-popular Kaka likely to move up above Jordan and probably Beckham, now that the former England captain has retired.
But the Brazilian is no longer in contention to win Ballons d'Or and he will not catch the top two here either. Of the current list, only Neymar looks likely to do that. At 21, the Barca forward already boasts in excess of 13 million Facebook 'fans' and that figure is set to rise dramatically as his career develops at Camp Nou.
Meanwhile, Madrid's new record signing Gareth Bale has some way to make the top 10, with just under five million 'likes' on his profile.
He could feature in future, however, as football's global appeal continues to grow, leaving other sports in its slipstream. The beautiful game is also the most popular game and, judging by these figures, that status seems safe for a long, long time to come.
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