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How To Start Collecting Soccer Cards

You may have noticed that soccer cards have increased visibility on the collecting scene. They also retain a good deal of value, more than most other sports. You may be wondering if it is a fad or a fluke, but it isn’t. We will give you the info you need to start collecting soccer cards.

The math is simple. According to recent market research, soccer has 3.5 billion fans worldwide. Basketball has 2.2 billion fans, and baseball and football have a fraction of that.

In addition, soccer cards have a long tradition and have been popular in Europe and South America for decades. Tobacco companies in England started producing cards featuring popular soccer (or association football as they call it there) players in the late 19th Century.

Soccer card prices fluctuated with the collectors’ bubble just like everything else, and therefore may face depreciation soon. However, the foundation is solid, and they will maintain a large base of enthusiasts in the long run.

Who Are The Main Producers of Soccer Cards?

You may have heard of this small company called Panini, right? They only started making their beloved Prizm cards in 2012. Decades before that, they were a soccer-oriented company.

That is good news if you are used to collecting Panini and have, let’s say Panini points to get rid of.

The Italian company began to produce soccer cards in 1961. However, they came to dominate the international scene in the 1970s.

Their big breakthrough came with their sticker album for the 1970 World Cup. Realizing the global potential, they translated the sets into different languages and sold them everywhere. It became an international sensation, as kids from all around the world tried to finish their sets.

In the 2018 World Cup, the popularity of Panini albums reached new heights. The company produced 8-10 million card packages daily.

Panini has always had rivals in the industry and still does. Furthermore, the market for soccer cards is so large that they have many opportunities to make inroads.

The Panini sticker albums launched it towards world domination. (Picture from the Scotsman).

The Complexity of Licensing For Soccer Cards

Licensing for soccer cards is far more complex than it is for American professional sports. Therefore, there is a lot you need to know before you can start collecting soccer cards.

In the US, there is usually one league that matters. Sure, there are college football, XFL, or Canadian football cards. But what really matters is who has the license for the NFL.

Soccer is an international game and is not centralized. If you asked a bunch of fans which league is the best, a serious argument is sure to break out. The English Premier League has the most money and prestige overall. However, the Spanish La Liga has arguably the two most famous and powerful Barcelona and Real Madrid clubs. The Italian Serie A has its defenders as well, though its quality has notably declined in recent years.

But the leagues aren’t everything. Not by a long shot. The most prestigious club competition is the European Champions League, which pits the best teams in the continent against each other. The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) runs that contest.

Aside from club competition, soccer also has international games between countries. These competitions often have the most financial potential for card manufacturers. UEFA also runs the European Football Championship. But the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) runs the biggest competition of all: The World Cup.

Panini is big, but Topps has the prestigious Champions League competition rights. (Photo taken from Sky Sports).

Who Has The Licenses for Soccer Cards?

Since each body owns the rights to the competition, the question of licensing for cards can get quite tricky. Here is the current picture in that regard:

  • English Premier League: Panini owns the overall rights. Futera owns the rights to some of the teams, including Liverpool and Manchester City, and releases unique cards for those teams.
  • La Liga (Spain): Panini.
  • Serie A (Italy): Panini
  • Bundesliga (Germany): Topps
  • Major League Soccer (US): Topps
  • World Cup (International): Panini
  • European Champions League (European International): Topps

As long as Panini controls the licensing for the World Cup and the Premier League, they will continue to dominate the soccer card market.

The most popular products in the United States are the Panini Prizm English Premier League Cards, the Topps Champions League cards, and the Topps MLS series.

Key Soccer Stars

A lot is different about soccer cards. However, some things are universal to card collecting in every sport. You are going to want to look for the biggest stars and the most promising rookies if you want to start collecting soccer cards.

Keep in mind that soccer is a bit like football in that the position of the player matters. A lot. Strikers and playmakers tend to have the most valuable cards. As good as a left-sided defender may be, they will likely be worth less because they get less press and glory.

When it comes to the biggest stars in soccer and soccer card collecting, two names are head and shoulders above the rest (incidentally both parts of the body you can use in soccer), Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Some even say they are the two best players of all time. I say those people have pretty short memories, but I digress.

Do you know those arguments about who was better, Lebron or Jordan? Imagine if they played simultaneously and the NBA had twice as many fans arguing in 100 different languages. That gives you an idea of the rivalry between these two players.

However, they are not the only huge international soccer stars. Here is a list of a few essential veterans.

  • Lionel Messi – This Argentina and Barcelona forward has scored over 750 goals and holds the record for the most scored for a single club.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo – The Portuguese winger has won the FIFA best player in the world award five times.
  • Neymar – The Brazilian forward is often considered the third-best player globally and easily the best player in the French league.
  • Robert Lewandowski – The Polish and Bayern Munich forward is one of the best natural scorers I have ever seen, with over 500 goals.

There is really no equivalent for the Messi-Ronaldo rivalry in American sports. (Photo taken from Messivsronaldo.net).

The Hottest Soccer Rookies

Let’s divide this into two sets of players. First, a list of the best young players that have proven themselves as possessing massive superstar potential. Everyone is chasing these cards right now:

  • Kylian Mbappé – The French striker is only 22 but is already considered one of the top-ten players in the world.
  • Erling Braut Halland – Only 20, but already a sensation after scoring 33 goals in his first 32 games in the Bundesliga.
  • Alphonso Davies – You don’t have many Canadian soccer superstars, but with his speed and dribbling ability, Davies will be the first.

Meanwhile, the most promising prospects (18 and under) are:

  • Ansu Fati – The Spanish youngster made his debut for Barcelona at age 16 and has the skills to be one the greatest wingers ever.
  • Eduardo Camavinga – Came into the French international team at the age of 17 when some veterans were injured. Now he is an inseparable part of the team.
  • Giovanni Reyna – Maybe you want to invest in an American prospect. Look no further than the brilliant Giovanni who is setting the Bundesliga ablaze at age 18.

If you want to invest in a rookie, Giovanni Reyna is a good place to start. (Picture taken from Topps.com).

What Are The Highest Sales?

The price of soccer cards has swelled up astronomically during the big COVID-19 card boom. That has influenced vintage cards as well as newer issues.

On March 7, 2021, a Diego Maradona rookie card from 1979 sold for $555,960 at a Goldin Auction. It is so far the highest value sale of a single soccer card. A Cristiano Ronaldo RC sold for $236,160 at the same auction.

Sales at these price points do not take place on eBay. However, there are some valuable cards available there as well. Here are the highest value card sales posted on eBay.

  • Giovanni Reyna Auto RC – $49,999.99
  • Kylian Mbappe /99 RC – $30,000
  • David Beckham RC – $25,000

The Big Sticker Vs. Card Debate

Panini was initially a sticker company, and that set the tone for soccer collecting until recently. Collectors had to glue the first stickers into the album. Only later did they come in self-adhesive packaging.

Therefore, the typical soccer card is a sticker intended to feature in an album. The photo usually consists of a simple headshot and the team name. They sometimes also include the position of the player.

While American-style cards have begun to replace stickers, they have not done so completely. That means that many of the most valuable vintage rookie cards, and even some of the more modern ones, are stickers.

Indeed, to die-hard soccer card collectors, the stickers often take precedence over the cardboard cards. So, if a player has a sticker and physical card, they will consider the sticker to be the “true rookie.”

However, cards often sell for more. It isn’t easy to get a good grade on a sticker. They are made of cheaper material, and the adhesive can peel. But that means that PSA 5-6 stickers can fetch insane prices due to their low population.

The highest value sale ever is a 1979 Maradona rookie. It is also a sticker. (Photo taken from Goldinauctions.com).

What Else Do I Need To Know to Start Collecting Soccer Cards?

While I certainly hope this article was informative, it does not give you all the information you need to start collecting effectively. Watch some games and get a feel for the sport before you jump in. The prices are so high right now that you do not want to get soured by making a costly false move.

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim

Shaiel Ben-Ephraim is the emeritus editor of Cardlines. He continues to write for several hobby outlets, including this one and Cardbase. He collects primarily vintage baseball and soccer and has a weird obsession with 1971 Topps.

In his spare time, Shaiel is sobbing into his bourbon when the Mets lose and playing Dungeons and Dragons. In a past life, Dr. Ben-Ephraim was a political science professor, journalist, and diplomat. But cards are more fun.
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