PARIS: Luka Modric saw off competition from a host of French World Cup stars as the Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder won the 2018 Ballon d’Or on Monday, breaking Cristiano Ronaldo’s and Lionel Messi’s decade-long hold on the prestigious award.
Messi and Ronaldo had won every Ballon d’Or since 2008, and usually fought only each other for the greatest recognition among football’s elite.
Modric, 33, was announced as the winner of the prestigious prize in a glitzy ceremony held in Paris. Juventus forward and 2017 winner Ronaldo came second, with France and Atletico Madrid striker Antoine Griezmann completing the podium.
Paris St Germain’s teenage France forward Kylian Mbappe, who also collected the Kopa award for the best under-21 player, was fourth, with Barca forward Messi finishing fifth, having been runner-up to Ronaldo the past two years and in the top three every year since 2007.
Another Frenchman, Modric’s Real team-mate Raphael Varane, was seventh, just behind Liverpool’s Egyptian forward Mohamed Salah. Brazil star Neymar was third last year but only 12th this time.
Olympique Lyonnais’ Norway striker Ada Hegerberg won the inaugural Ballon d’Or for women’s football, having led her side to the Women’s Champions League title, scoring in extra time in the 4-1 win over Vfl Wolfsburg in the final.
Modric — the oldest winner since Italy’s Fabio Cannavaro, also 33, in 2006 — helped Real Madrid win a third successive Champions League title in May and also captained Croatia to their first World Cup final in July, being named player of the tournament despite his side losing 4-2 to France.
“As a kid we all have dreams. My dream was to play for a big club and win important trophies,” said Modric, wearing a tuxedo as he collected the award from presenter and former France forward David Ginola after a glamorous ceremony at the imperious Grand Palais.
“The Ballon d’Or was more than just a dream for me and it is really an honor and a privilege to hold this trophy. “It’s a unique feeling. I’m happy proud and honoured, I have a lot of emotions right now, it’s hard to describe in words.
“It’s a big pleasure to be here among all these players. I am still trying to realise that I have become part of a group of exceptional players to win the Ballon d’Or throughout history.”
Modric has won 14 trophies since joining Real, including four Champions Leagues. He could add to that as Real take part in the Club World Cup later this month.
A refugee at one point growing up during Croatia’s War of Independence in the 1990s, his popularity in Croatia was hit by his testimony last year during the multi-million-euro corruption trial of former Dinamo chief Zdravko Mamic. Prosecutors charged Modric for giving false evidence, but the charges have now been dropped.
The prize comes after Modric claimed the UEFA’s prize for player of the season before picking up FIFA’s ‘The Best’ award in October.
Ronaldo missed out on a record sixth award, which would have moved him one ahead of Messi. The last player to win it before those two started dominating world football awards was Brazil midfielder Kaka with AC Milan in 2007.
Ronaldo also won the Champions League last season with Modric, before leaving to join Juve in a typically prolific year,
while Messi has again been outstanding with Barca both are now in their 30s and neither stamped their authority on the World Cup.
The World Cup was always likely to play a key role, and France had hoped to see one of their stars take the award on home soil.
The last time a Frenchman won the Ballon d’Or came in 1998, when Zinedine Zidane was rewarded for starring as Les Bleus won that year’s World Cup.
But perhaps the lack of a single standout French candidate cleared the path for Modric — Hugo Lloris, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante had also been in the running, as had Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Harry Kane, the World Cup’s top scorer.
Mbappe and Griezmann scored in the World Cup final win against Croatia. Mbappe earned a domestic treble with PSG while Griezmann also scored twice for Atletico in the Europa League final win against Olympique Marseille.
“I won the Europa League and the World Cup, so it’s been a great year, but it is true that it was a little bit disappointing after I was told what the podium was,” said Griezmann.
France coach Didier Deschamps said a France player should have won the award.
“They deserve it because of what they did with the national team at the World Cup and also because of the trophies they won with their clubs,” Deschamps said.
The Ballon d’or, voted for by journalists and organised by French magazine France Football, was first presented in 1956 and partnered with football’s world governing body FIFA as ‘The Best’ award from 2010 to 2015, until becoming its own entity again.
France Football created a women’s award for the first time this year. Hegerberg, 23, won the women’s prize after starring for French side Lyon as they successfully defended the Champions League title and scored a tournament-record 15 times last season.
“I want to say thanks to France Football. It’s a huge step for women’s football,” Hegerberg said. “I want to end this speech with a message to all young girls in the world. Believe in yourselves.”