Luka Modric was named the Ballon d’Or winner by France Football on Monday, capping off an unforgettable year for the Croatian midfielder.

Luka Modric Ballon d’Or
Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric (center) poses with Women’s Ballon d’Or winner Ada Hegerberg and Raymond Kopa Trophy recipient Kylian Mbappe. (Image: AP)

Modric, who led his country to the World Cup final and his club, Real Madrid, to a third straight Champions League title, is the first person other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi to win the award since 2008.

Modric Collects Hardware After Breakout Year

Modric was already a superstar before 2018, finishing fifth in voting for the Ballon d’Or in 2017. But this was truly a breakout year for the 33-year-old playmaker.

“2018 is a dream year for me,” Modric said in accepting the award. “Throughout my career, I realized hard work, persistence and belief in yourself in difficult moments are the foundations of success.”

Modric is the first player from Croatia to win the award. It’s the second major individual honor for the midfielder this year, as he was also the winner of FIFA’s The Best award. Both prizes are designed to go to the world’s best player.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez was at the ceremony in Paris, and said that Modric’s attractive style of play likely helped propel him to the top of world soccer.

“It’s a pleasure to watch him out on the pitch and the way he controls the ball, passes it and shoots,” Perez said. “He’s leaving his mark on an era and he’s winning it all with us. It’s a source of satisfaction that he plays for this club.”

Ronaldo finished as the runner up for the award, ahead of a pair of French stars: Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappe. Messi rounded out the top five, the first time since 2006 he was not among the top three in voting for the award.

According to Modric, it was another French legend who helped him realize his full potential. After receiving the award, Modric told France Football that Zinedine Zidane gave him the confidence to become the player he is today.

“When Zinedine Zidane became Real Madrid coach, he called me into his office after training,” Modric said. “He said I was a very important player for him. And he said that he saw me as a Ballon d’Or winner one day. When someone like Zidane, with his personality and his career, says that to you, it gives you a lot of confidence.”

Mbappe, Hegerberg Also Honored

Also being honored on Monday was Mbappe, who won the Raymond Kopa Trophy as the world’s best under-21 player. The 19-year-old was the breakout star of the 2018 World Cup, and became the second-youngest player ever to score in a World Cup final in France’s 4-2 victory over Croatia. Mbappe beat out American midfielder Christian Pulisic, who finished second in the voting.

In addition, Ada Hegerberg won the first ever Women’s Ballon d’Or award. The Norwegian forward has won three straight Women’s Champions League titles with Lyon, scoring 15 goals in last season’s tournament, a new record for the competition.

“I want to say thanks to France Football. It’s a huge step for women’s football,” Hegerberg said when receiving the award. “I want to end this speech with a message to all young girls in the world. Believe in yourselves.”