Ronaldo, Messi, Conca: When unknown Argentine was world's third-highest paid player

Shanghai SIPG Training Session

Do you remember Dario Conca?


Call yourself a football fan.

Conca was once the third best player in world football behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano.

Okay… not quite. But he was actually the third best-paid player behind the two greatest players to have ever played the game.

But who is he?

Here’s the bizarre story of Dario Conca.

Shanghai SIPG Training Session

Who is Dario Conca?

In the summer of 2011, Conca had just helped Brazilian side Fluminense to their first Brazilian championship since 1984. He had been voted the best player in Brazil’s Serie A in 2009 and 2010, catching the attention of many clubs.

It earned him a lucrative move.

But not a lucrative move to a major European side.

Instead, he secured a very lucrative move to Guangzhou Evergrande in China, before the Chinese Super League was fashionable. The Chinese club spent a record-breaking $10 million on him.

On July 2, Conca signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Guangzhou worth £170,000 per week, making him the third-highest paid player in the world.

Only Messi and Ronaldo earned more at the time.

But Conca wouldn’t be competing for the Ballon d’Or with the two superstars who played for Barcelona and Real Madrid at the time.

Instead, the striker remained in China for three seasons scoring an impressive 54 goals in 99 appearances.

During those three years, he was suspended by the club for nine matches for questioning the manager’s decision to substitute him.

He said: “I don’t understand why they always sideline me with the excuse that I’m exhausted and need rest. How could I have scored a crucial penalty if I’m not in condition? And why does the coach always have Conca take a rest?”

However, midway through the ban former Italian World Cup-winning football manager Marcello Lippi was appointed and cancelled the suspension.

Conca helped Guangzhou win three consecutive Chinese Super Leagues as well as the AFC Champions League. He was also named in the Chinese Super League Team of the Year on three occasions and claimed Chinese Football Association Footballer of the Year in 2013.

Shanghai SIPG Training Session

However, Conca wanted to return to his native country and re-signed for Fluminense at the age of 30.

His wages went from £170,000-per-week to £8,000-per-week.

It wasn’t long until Conca started missing those Chinese Super League paychecks, though. Because a year later, he returned to China with Shanghai SIPG, managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson.

“Conca is like Messi,” Eriksson said when he signed him.

“He is the same size, he is left footed, he is a fantastic dribbler and he makes and scores a lot of goals.

“When I came here, he was the one player I wanted more than any other.”

Guangzhou Evergrande FC v Al-Ahly SC - FIFA Club World Cup Quarter Final

More than any other player? We struggle to believe that.

At Shanghai, Conca scored 17 goals in 58 appearances but struggled with a cruciate ligament knee injury.

It ultimately ended his career as he briefly returned to Fluminense on loan before ending his career with the newly formed Austin Bold FC in the USL Championship.

In 2019, Conca, aged 36 at the time, announced his retirement to focus on becoming a professional golfer.

At the end of his football career, Conca had earned more than £50 million in wages without being capped for Argentina.

But in the three years, Conca hasn’t managed to make his make in the professional game.

Dario Conca

“Football has given me a lot, I love this career, it was fantastic for me, but today I think it’s the right time for me to stop,” he told

“I was not thinking about football today. It gave me a lot, I’m very grateful for everything, I managed to make a career, to have recognition. 

“It gave me the possibility to fulfill my dream as a child, with all my family involved behind that dream. I’m happy when I feel it started as a game and then you already have responsibility. It’s part of my life, I dedicated myself 100% to this magnificent career, fantastic, but an hour ends.

“I’ve already started on the golf course, I always wanted to play, to discover new sports. (Golf) always caught my attention, today I have more time to dedicate myself, to do something that motivates me to overcome myself.

“You think I start playing games, right? I want to play golf (laughs). It happens with every player, we feel that desire to compete, to always want to come and improve every day. Let’s start as a joke, like another sport. Then we’ll see. I’ll try to do my best, prepare myself, train and then we’ll see how far to go.”

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