- Real Madrid are the world's most valuable football club according to Forbes
- Spaniards claim top spot from English club Manchester United for first time
- Real's value increased by 76% over the past year to stand at $3.3 billion
- Barcelona are ranked third in the list, Arsenal fourth and Bayern Munich fifth
Spanish soccer giants Real Madrid increased the value of their club by 76% over the past year to usurp Manchester United as the world's most valuable football team.
A study by financial experts Forbes found that Real Madrid's value now stands at $3.3 billion, knocking the English Premier League champions elect off the top of the list for the first time since the study began in 2004.
Confounding the increasingly difficult economic conditions in Spain, Real, managed by Portuguese coach Jose Mourinho, have increased revenues to $650 million.
Their operating income of $134 million is second only to the $227 million amassed by the NFL's Dallas Cowboys, which is the highest of all sports teams.
Manchester United, on the brink of securing a record 20th English top flight title, increased their value by 42% to $3.17 billion, according to Forbes.
Despite dropping to second behind Real, United have boosted revenues with a share issue and by signing bumper sponsorship deals.
Their seven-year shirt sponsorship deal with U.S. car giant Chevrolet is worth $559 million while an eight-year agreement with insurance firm Aon is thought to be worth $230 million.
All England's top flight clubs have been boosted by an increase in television revenue with the combined domestic and overseas rights having the potential to top $6 billion, Forbes say.
Real's arch rivals Barcelona are third on the list with a value of $2.6 billion, English club Arsenal lie fourth on $1.32 billion while German champions Bayern Munich sit fifth on $1.3 billion.
The top 20 clubs, all but one of which are European, are worth an average of $968 million, which is up 26% on last year.
David Beckham, who now plays for French club Paris Saint-Germain, is again the best-paid soccer star with earnings of $50.6 million while Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is second on $43.5m. Barcelona's Lionel Messi is third on $40.3m.
Forbes say they value teams by calculating their "enterprise values (equity plus debt) that are based on multiples of revenue that teams garner from television, premium seating, media, licensing, merchandise and concessions."
But speaking to CNN, sports business expert Simon Chadwick questioned the relevance of measuring value in this way.
"Real Madrid, Manchester United and Barcelona are all in the top-10 list of the most indebted clubs in the world, even if their revenue streams are healthy and strongly established," he said.
"The implication of measuring value in this way seems to be that many clubs in the top-10 are simply buying their success by signing players, building debt and winning trophies.
"It will be interesting to see the extent to which the UEFA Financial Fair Play initiative moderates valuations in coming Forbes league tables."
UEFA's new rules are designed to make Europe's clubs live within their means and attempt to break even each year, though there is an allowance for debt in the initial stages of their strategy.
Chadwick believes the figures underline just how immune soccer is to the financial difficulties being experienced in Europe. He says the upward spiral shows no signs of abating.
"While football clubs clearly have tremendous financial value and commercial potential, some of the figures being reported here are staggering," he added.
"For Real Madrid to almost double its financial value in 12 months is incredible, especially set against the backdrop of economic austerity (particularly in Spain) and competition from other sports and industrial sectors.
"If these figures are a truly accurate and rigorous measure of value, then they are stunning. Even at the top-end of the game, clubs are relatively underdeveloped as commercial entities.
"With changes in management practice, a stronger commercial emphasis, and global marketplace development, then one can only speculate how much further the value of top clubs might increase."