Producing a definitive list of the most popular teams in football is no easy task, with a wide range of variables factoring into the equation.
However, in an age where social media dominates the landscape, we can garner an informative overview of which teams attract the most interest.
As reflected by the content on leading media outlet FootballToday, Europe’s big hitters are hugely popular with fans across the world.
We assess follower numbers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to determine which teams are the most popular in football.
1. Real Madrid
Real Madrid are the undisputed number one on the popularity list, racking up more than 262 million followers across the three main social platforms.
Outside of its domestic market, Madrid generates massive interest in South America, China, Japan and several other major European markets.
Madrid also have a huge following in the United States, with the club’s first visit in 1927 laying the foundations for them to establish a global empire.
Their policy of signing some of the world’s biggest stars coupled with embarking on strategic tours has undoubtedly helped Madrid build a massive fanbase.
While Barcelona are Madrid’s biggest rivals in La Liga, they have not been able to keep up with Los Blancos in the social media stakes.
Their combined following of more than 248m on the three main platforms is not to be sniffed at, although they are unlikely to overhaul Madrid anytime soon.
Much of their success and global popularity was built on Lionel Messi’s presence in the team, but those days ended when he signed for Paris Saint-Germain in 2021.
With the club currently in the midst of a financial crisis, it may be some time before they recreate the magical times they enjoyed with Messi in their ranks.
3. Manchester United
Manchester United’s perceived status as the world’s most popular club has diminished in recent years, with the Sir Alex Ferguson era now consigned to the history books.
The Red Devils remain the number one team in the Premier League for social media followers, tallying more than 160m across Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
That figure puts them miles clear of rivals Liverpool, who have nowhere near the same global reach despite what many of their fans think.
However, things could change over the coming years if United continue to miss out on success in the Premier League and Champions League.
4. Paris Saint-Germain
Paris Saint-Germain’s appearance at number four in the list of most popular teams in football may take some fans by surprise, but their tally of more than 114m followers is easy to explain.
Their acquisition of Neymar from Barcelona for a world record fee in 2017 unquestionably had a major impact on their global appeal.
Neymar has more than 320m followers across the same social platforms, highlighting his pulling power with football fans worldwide.
With Argentinian superstar Messi also in their ranks, interest in PSG will probably continue to increase over the next few years.
Juventus are another club that has enjoyed social media growth on the back of having a global football icon in their ranks.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival in Turin in 2018 sparked an upsurge of interest in the Serie A giants, helping them increase their global following to more than 100m.
Their social growth has stalled since the Portuguese forward returned to Man Utd last summer, but their tally of 106.5m is still impressive.
With new striker Dusan Vlahovic looking like he could become one of football’s new poster boys, Juve should remain in the top five for some time yet.
Chelsea were previously in the top five, but are increasingly in danger of being overtaken by the teams directly behind them in the list.
The 2020/21 Champions League winners currently have 102m followers, but their lack of superstar players is hindering their ability to grow their social presence.
That point is highlighted to perfection on Instagram, where Chelsea’s total 32.6m followers significantly lags behind several of Europe’s big guns.
Owner Roman Abramovich’s recent decision to put Chelsea up for sale leaves the club facing an uncertain future that may impact their long-term popularity.
It is fair to say that Liverpool fans can be rather insufferable when it comes to their status in world football. Big club? Yes. Most popular in football? No.
Their 94m social following is dwarfed by Premier League rivals Man Utd and pales into insignificance when compared to Madrid and Barcelona.
The Merseyside club was not helped by their slow response to the globalisation of football and their failure to win a league title for 30 years.
While the hierarchy at Liverpool have worked hard in recent years to take a more global outlook, the Reds are unlikely to ever have the same widespread appeal as the top clubs in this list.
8. Bayern Munich
Bayern’s proximity to Liverpool in this list demonstrates why fans of the Premier League club would do well not to think they are in the same bracket as the big guns in the popularity stakes.
The German giants have just shy of 91m followers on the main social platforms, despite lacking the so-called glamour of some of their rivals.
Bayern have built up their impressive following without the reciprocal pull of superstars such as Messi and Ronaldo, and devoid of the brand glitz possessed by the likes of Madrid and Barca.
The club’s inclusion in the top 10 highlights that popularity in football does not necessarily have to be about superstar players or aggressively marketed club brands.
9. Manchester City
Manchester City have muscled their way into top 10 popularity list in recent times and they may well make further progress in the future.
Success on the pitch generally translates into increased interest from football fans and City should be able to add to their 81.5m followers over the next few years.
Overtaking Liverpool is not beyond the reals of possibility, particularly if City continue to outstrip the Reds in terms of major trophies.
Catching Man Utd will probably be a different matter, with the Red Devils’ well-established brand giving them a huge advantage in the global popularity stakes.
Arsenal’s marketing team will rightly be worried about the club’s diminishing global appeal, with some of their rivals blowing them out of the water in recent years.
PSG and Juventus are amongst the clubs who have powered past the Gunners, using their links with superstar players to great effect.
Arsenal have not been helped by their lack of success on the pitch, although there have been signs that things could change under manager Mikel Arteta.
A follower total of 77.6m is certainly not disastrous – expect that figure to boom if Arteta can re-establish Arsenal as a major force in football.