Soccer Trading Cards 101: How To Start Your Collection And Make Money

Here's what to look for and the top 12 young stars to start your collection with.

Collecting cards can be one of the most intriguing hobbies on offer for hardcore sports fans. The market for soccer cards has exploded since 2020, and it's projected to rise over the coming years. With the hobby growing fast, now is a good time to start your own soccer card collection. 

Introduction To The Hobby

The best part about card investing is you are putting your money into something you enjoy. It makes collecting far more entertaining as you go after your favorite players and watch as the card value goes up with the trajectory of their career. You have already invested your heart and soul into a club, so why not have something to show for it?

You now have the opportunity to make money as a soccer fan. It's an investment, which is always risky — prices can go up or down — but you just need to stay informed and make the decision on whether to hold a card or sell. 

At first, looking up at the mountains of possibilities for soccer card investing can be quite overwhelming. The first part is just enjoying the hobby — it's supposed to be fun collecting your favorite athlete’s cards from around the world.  With soccer being more popular than any American sport, collecters expect the soccer card demand to outgrow the other large sports card communities. There are unlimited potential options that you have as a soccer card collector, but first, let’s go through the basics. 

Quality Control

Whether you collect stickers, cards or anything in between, the following is important information for your set. The quality of the physical card is extremely important when collecting, and many people use protective plastic sleeves to help control the card condition. If the card is damaged in any way, it surrenders a lot of its value. Keeping your card in perfect quality is a big key to card collecting.

A card’s quality and worth are directly correlated to the quality and imperfections of the physical card. Submitting a card to get graded by a professional company like PSA or Beckett can increase your card’s value immensely as they measure it on a scale of one to ten, with ten being pristine, perfect condition. It can either make or break your card’s value as they decide the quality of the card with a grade.

The companies measure multiple aspects of the card, including the condition of the card, looking for scratches and dents, to the sharpness of all four corners. The most unusual factor is they also evaluate the centering of that card as well. Not every card is printed the same and often the manufacturers make mistakes in printing. The player isn’t always printed directly in the center of the card, which would cause the card to be graded lower.

Even if you pulled a Kylian Mbappé rookie card and protected it with your life before you sent it into grade, it could still come back with a poor grade due to it being printed a bit off. The above Mbappé card was graded a perfect gem mint 10 was sold for $750, more than the same exact card that was graded a six. That is why people hold top graded cards to such high value because of how exclusive they are.

Wowza

If you are lucky and receive a high grade on your card, the price skyrockets, but be wary and understand that if you get a poor grade, it could drop as well. That is why the graded cards are more important than just the regular cards, because you have preserved your card’s quality and value for eternity.

You can inspect it yourself but you never truly know the exact condition of your card until it is graded by a professional company, so one of your goals should be to collect and keep high-quality cards to send in and get graded. You can prepare to send in your cards by examining them with a magnifying glass for scratches or even using a centering tool to see if it is properly printed.

The value of the card is contingent on the quality of the actual card. That is why grading and keeping your cards in pristine condition is extremely important for your collection.  

Now that you understand the basics of how the hobby works, we can jump into the soccer cards themselves. I know when you think about high-quality cards that are worth money you immediately go to the Messi and Ronaldos. They do carry a ton of value, but these cards with the big names already reflect the high level of play in the price. There isn’t much yield for profit if you just go after the big fish because you will buy high. 

The best part of collecting cards is watching your investments improve. You form a special relationship with the players in your collection. Pulling or buying your favorite player’s rookie card and watching the value increase with his play is one of the most exciting ways to make money and collect.

You don’t get to watch your stocks play a football match, so why invest in that? With cards, you can form a bond and relationship that you can’t get as just a fan. This is why card collecting can be one of the most exhilarating ways to invest, in sort you own a bit of stock in that player's career. 

Types of Cards

Rookie Cards

There are endless varieties of soccer cards. From autographs to parallels, the range of sports cards keeps growing. My personal favorite card to collect is the rookie card. With an orderly RC patch pasted on the card (Shown below), it marks the athlete’s first official professional card. These first-year cards are more popular than any other year in the player's career. Soccer cards have recently started using the rookie logo with the first appearance being in the 2017-18 collections, which adds to a better aesthetic on the card.

Rookie Cards

The earlier sets and older players might not have an RC logo on the card, but it still is their first card. The first edition of a football card is usually more sought after than any other year of that player’s career. This is where the investments come: You can collect rookie cards at low prices, banking on them becoming football stars, and in the meantime increasing the value of the card.  

Autographed Cards

The most expensive and sought-after cards are ones with autographs on them. Who doesn’t want their favorite football player’s card with an autograph on it? Having a sleek autograph on your card will boost the quality and demand through the roof. All autographs are certified by the card companies to make sure it was actually the athlete’s signature by the make of the card. 

Autographs

Diving deeper into different types of cards, you find the card parallels. All soccer card sets produce a regular base of all of the full rosters. Base cards are basic and don’t necessarily have high demand, except if it is a superstar on the card.

Parallel Cards

Parallel cards are different rare variations of those base cards that display ulterior colors and aspects on the card. These cards feature varied designs which include distinctive colors with diverse rarities, displayed below. The base card could display a grey background while a parallel has a shiny blue outline and background, which increases the value and uniqueness of the card. 

Card Parallels

Different Sets

Below is an example of a specific set of cards — one of the first ones produced was the 2014 World Cup collection. That set includes all of the international players in their home county's kits. These sets of cards are more sought after than just regular base cards from that year because a lot of collectors like completing the World Cup sets and seeing the players in their country's kits. 

World Cup

Numbered Cards

Another way your cards can get even more valuable is if they're numbered. Having a numbered card means there is only a certain amount of that card produced and in circulation. The number can vary from out of one, meaning there was only one of those cards ever made, to out of 10,000 cards.

You will find on the card if it is a numbered card and what exactly is that card's position out of that collection. As you can guess, the value increases with the limited amount of cards produced. Below, in the bottom left corner of the Messi patch card, is where you can see that the card is in fact numbered, meaning that card is the ninth made out of a total of 15 ever. 

 Fun Fact: If the number of your card matches the number the player wears, the value of the card increases even more! 

Patch Cards

Next, we look at the cards with match-worn kits incorporated in the card. Common patches include jersey numbers, team logos and even team or player names inside the patch. The patches of jerseys or other equipment inside the card make it far more valuable, with the more colors and designs inside the patch increasing the price.

These cards are very unique and really intriguing to a collector as you get a piece of the game within your card. While they aren’t as valuable as a card with a signature, patch cards are more valuable than regular cards. 

messi Patch

Diving even deeper into the hobby, you can find all of these cards combined into one. You could collect a numbered, parallel rookie card that has an autograph and a patch in it, which would be immensely valuable. The options for card collecting are countless as the hobby changes and grows. 

Kante Card

Soccer Cards Vs. Stickers

Soccer card investing isn’t just reserved for actual cards, as stickers that feature a headshot of the athlete was the original "card" first produced by Topps in the 1960s.

There is a debate on what is the “real” collectible between the regular card and the stickers, but both are highly sought after. While stickers have a special place in long-time collector’s hearts because at one point that was the only product available, the cards usually go for more money. The physical cards are far more durable than the stickers and offer more variety. In my opinion, if you are starting to collect, I would stick with the regular cards to build your collection.  

Who Should You Collect?

When selecting the right players to add to your collection, there are many factors that should come into play. The most important one is who do you want to collect — having fun grabbing who you believe will prosper is the best part about this hobby. It feels as if you are buying stock in your favorite footballers: If they do well, your card's value correlates.

But there are a few rules you want to follow as well. The player has to be competent on the field, no one wants to buy a card for someone who just isn’t good. The better the player on your card, the larger the market is for the athlete's cards. 

Another key part of starting your collection is choosing the players who do the most on the pitch. Although a defender could be your player of choice, they aren't as valuable to collect as a quality striker who is on the pitch scoring goals and dishing out assists.

Next, with all of the possibilities in card collecting, you might not know whether to go after old legends who you know had a great career and will always have a high card demand or the young guns who have high potential. The most popular legends cards like Pele and Maradonna go for big bucks. This way of collecting is safer because these cards don’t necessarily lose any value unless the whole hobby does.

These players can’t have bad seasons or receive a nasty injury, which would certainly decrease the value of the card. There will always be a market for these players because they have already proven to be the best and adored by many. This could be a great way of investing because there will always be a demand for legends and their price will go up with the soccer market as it continues to increase. 

The other way to collect cards is to target the young guns that you believe will have stellar careers before they fully develop their potential. This is why card investing is exciting — you invest in a player’s career by buying his cards in the hope they will increase in value as their career progresses. This is definitely the riskier way to invest as any player's career could be derailed and with it, the card's value would plummet. The positive with this route is that it's definitely a less expensive way to get into the hobby, but it can also make you the most money.

These cards will be easier to collect as the pricing would be immensely lower than an already established footballer. You just need to be informed of your players and know when to buy. For example, looking at a player who is going to make a big-money move or transfer to a bigger club that benefits him, the card’s value could shoot up with these events. Just like stock investing, you have to do your homework and find the right times to invest in different players.

For example, when the World Cup comes around and the national teams are selected, those player’s cards will increase if they are a part of the team. Or if a team is getting relegated, where will their best players move to and will the interest increase with that club? Either way you go with your collection, if the market keeps increasing as many predict, you will make money.

The best way to go about collecting is to just enjoy the hobby while compiling a set of your favorite athletes.

Finally, I understand that the introduction was quite long but card investing and collecting is quite intricate. There are a ton of factors that come into play to make the hobby what it is. 

But now we can get into what cards you should look out to invest in or start your own set with. I am not going to tell you to go out and buy these cards as quickly as you can, but these are the cards I am putting my money into where I expect a return on my investment. Card collecting is subjective, as supporters place different values on their favorite players, so we can definitely disagree on my list.

First off, I am not going to say Messi or Ronaldo because we don’t want you to break the bank already. They are the most recognizable players in the world and the price points mirror that. Those cards can go for upwards of thousands of dollars, but as I said before, if these cards are what you want, go after them!

I am not a financial advisor, just an amateur sports card collector, so we might disagree on some players but go after players who excite you personally. I just want to help guide you to making the right decisions in starting or growing your soccer card collection. 

I'm going to focus on less expensive cards of younger players to start your collection! There is less downside with these cards as you can buy them at lower values and feel pretty confident in them increasing in value as their careers go on.

Top 12 Soccer Cards to Invest In:

The following young players have either made waves or shown the potential to be superstars on the pitch and in your collection one day. If you get in on them now, you could see massive increases in the prices of their cards as they continue to improve. Below, we will run through 12 potential targets for you to add to your soccer card collection!

The top two players for investing will be obvious as Mbappé and Haaland have taken the hobby by storm. These guys could very well be the next generation's Messi and Ronaldo. They have the hype, the skill and the potential, so why not add a few of these cards to your collection and watch them keep improving? These guys will be quite a bit more than the other cards because they already have established themselves as the best young footballers in the world.

Kylian Mbappè

Mbappé is a machine that has already achieved superstar hype from fans. His potential is sky-high as he has proven to be a premier player. He first made waves at the 2018 World Cup, becoming the second teenager to score in a World Cup final after Pele.

Mbappé has put up insane numbers and has scored or assisted on 118 goals in just 108 league appearances for PSG. He seems to be a lock for being a superstar on the pitch with his lightning-fast pace and superb dribbling skills. But you can still find some of his cards at a discount at the moment with room for value increase with the rest of his career. Buying Mbappé and holding him for a while will never be a bad move with how bright his future is. 

Erling Haaland 

Haaland is the best young footballer right now, and this card investment is a clear no-brainer. He has one of the most sought-after cards in the hobby right now. Haaland is another very high-level player who is part of the next generation of football superstars. Not only did he lead the Champions League in goals scored with two more than Mbappé, but he played in fewer matches as well.  The man has a rocket for a leg and has shown excellent skills in front of goal with 106 goals in just 153 career appearances.

He has the level of play that you want for a future superstar.

With a potential move to a big Premier League team like Chelsea or Manchester City, his ceiling could increase even more. You might have to stretch your wallet out securing a quality Haaland card, because even his rookie stickers go for around hundreds of dollars. But if you look at Messi’s rookie cards going for hundreds of thousands, there is plenty of room for investment if you believe Haaland will rival a career like his.

Now we take a look at some more young stars who are certainly less expensive with some of the same untapped potential on the pitch. The following players are young soccer superstars who display the ability to become some of the best in the coming years. If you start collecting some of the guys now, you could see huge returns when they blossom in the future.

But don’t take my word as law and collect who you want to collect. The best part about card collecting is compiling a collection of your favorite footballers and just enjoying the hobby — making money is just an added bonus.

João Félix

Another young phenom who you should be looking for is João Félix. João relocated to Atletico Madrid in 2019 in a whopping top-five most expensive transfer ever. He has won the Golden Boy award and looks to be a world-class talent in the future. The 21-year-old is extremely creative and fast with the ball and doesn’t really display a weak foot.

He was a key player in Atletico's LaLiga title last year. Being on Portugal's national team always provides the expectations of the next Ronaldo, but I think they have found someone with the same potential in Félix. He is, in my opinion, definitely a card worth investing in as he will continue to improve while the soccer card market expands. 

Jaden Sancho 

Sancho is a very excellent young player who has dealt with some injury concerns but his potential on the pitch is crazy. The English right winger put up 12 goals and 18 assists in 34 appearances after suffering a calf injury last year. Injuries are quite scary for card investing, but he has performed at a very high level after coming back, showing no lingering effects. His close control dribbling is world-class and his movement with the ball is unmatched.

An important factor here is the huge transfer Sancho made recently from Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United. Making the jump to the bigger club and league brings a lot of excitement surrounding Sancho's card. If he is successful in the Premier League this year, watch his prices skyrocket. 

Phil Foden

Foden absolutely crushed it on the pitch this past season as he became the youngest player in the Premier League to reach 50 wins. His refusal to go down against defenders has drawn comparisons to the legend Messi. He has an incredible first touch and excellent spatial awareness which potentially can propel him into stardom. He has one of the highest potentials of any player on this list and if you collect his cards now you could make a great investment.

He was playing at a very high level at the 2020 Euros before he injured his ankle and had to sit out of the final. With no timetable to return at the moment, you could take advantage of collectors getting rid of their Foden cards and start collecting at a low. Even though he is injured, his potential outweighs any concerns of him having his career sidelined due to injuries. 

Eduardo Camavinga

Eduardo is an 18-year-old French footballer who plays midfield for Rennes in Ligue 1. He has displayed unmatched defensive skills being a lockdown defender and a very effective tackler. At just 17, he averaged 4.2 tackles a match in Ligue 1. Reports say he won’t be resigning with Rennes and possibly will join a bigger club, which would increase his potential tenfold.

Although Camavigna is a defensive midfielder, he shows excellent skills on the offensive side as well. He has been linked to clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid. The ability Eduardo has shown is enough for the hype around him to be real. If you start collecting before he joins a bigger club and succeeds, you could see lots of profit. 

Vinícius Júnior 

Vinicius, a Real Madrid right winger, has one of the most exciting futures of anybody on this list. He has proven that he can show up in big moments, as in the last year's Champions League quarterfinal first leg when he scored two goals against Liverpool. He has steadily improved through his short career and looks to be a future generational talent with his creation of space and the way he can set up his teammates.

Already at a big club, make sure to look out for his cards and stash them away because he has untapped potential and the opportunity for growth. 

Curtis Jones

A really exciting young attacking midfielder for Liverpool, Jones is a treat to watch on the pitch as he has very high skill and technique on both sides of the ball. He is an excellent attacker but also displays skills in defending and tackling. A very intelligent player, he will push for an England national team spot at the 2022 World Cup.

If you can secure his card before he makes the national team, his pricing could increase immensely. Look out for Jones to break out soon when he gets his chance on the pitch.

Ansu Fati

Ansu has been off the pitch since November with an injury, but despite the injury concerns he is definitely one of the best young soccer players in the world. He already has cracked the first team at 18-years-old and has been called Messi's successor at Barcelona.

He has grown underneath the legend and will have a few more years learning from Messi after the contract extension. He has shown he can put a team on his shoulders and there's not much else you could ask from the 18-year-old. 

Youssoufa Moukoko

Youssoufa Moukoko is a 16-year-old wonderkid whose card you should be looking out for right now. He has the potential to be a legend and is a really great card investment. He has shown he can perform in the big leagues with three goals in 14 matches in Bundesliga this past year.

The young, explosive forward has lightning pace and is a natural finisher. Additionally, his rookie cards have the rookie card logo which is definitely an aesthetic bonus. Definitely look out for and stash a few of his cards for the future as they are cheap right now.

Jérémy Doku

Being one of, if not the fastest player on the pitch definitely has its benefits, something the 19-year-old Belgium and Rennes forward knows all about. Doku recently got a few chances at the 2020 Euros and made the best of it, displaying he has the skills to compete against some of the best already. The dribbling skills and lighting pace he has shown are top tier and could lead him to be one of the best forwards in the future. 

His skill level has been compared to Liverpool forward Sadio Mane, who is an excellent Premier League attacker. Look for him to make a big-money transfer to a larger club in his future and watch his card's value increase if he can be successful. 

Pedri

Pedri, at just 18, was absolutely unstoppable during the Euros, and he went home with quite the accolades. Even though Spain was eliminated during the semifinals, Pedri won the Young Player of the Tournament award, was named to the Team of the Tournament and led everyone in distance traveled on the pitch. He has an impeccable passing vision already, setting up his teammates with unbelievable ball movement and passes. 

He has more than proved that he can play at any level after his performances at the Euros. He has the potential to be an even better center mid for Barcelona than the legendary Andrés Iniesta. 

Collecting and opening cards can be a really exciting hobby in the sports world. There's nothing better than building your collection of your favorite soccer players and watching their values go up as they perform on the pitch. What players are you personally collecting and do you agree with my list? Are you going to start your collection today?

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