The world’s best soccer player is no longer Ronaldo or Messi

The first new person to know what that trophy feels like in a decade.
The first new person to know what that trophy feels like in a decade.
Image: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
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Luka Modric, the Croatian soccer player for Real Madrid, is now the best in the world.

Last night (Dec. 3) in Paris, he took home the Ballon d’Or and dethroned Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, who between them have won it every year since 2008. In 2007, when it was won by Ricardo Kaka, Ronaldo came second and Messi came third.

This year, Ronaldo came second and Messi came fifth.

“Maybe in the past there are some players who could have won the Ballon d’Or, like Xavi, Andres Iniesta, or [Wesley] Sneijder. But people finally now are looking at someone else,” Modric told the BBC. ”This award is for all the players who probably deserved to win it and didn’t. It was a really special year for me.”

Indeed, it was. In 2018, Modric won his third Champions League in a row (the highest honor in European club soccer, which most players don’t win once in their careers) and then helped power Croatia, a nation of four million, to the final of the World Cup.

The Ballon d’Or, selected by journalists, is awarded by France Football magazine.  This year, the first women’s winner was also selected. (The historic moment for Ada Hegerberg, the Norwegian pro, was overshadowed by a bizarre question from the French DJ host, who asked her if she knew how to twerk.)

For the men, France’s Antoine Griezmann came third and his compatriot, the teenage sensation Kylian Mbappé, was fourth a few months after winning the World Cup.

Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah was the highest-placed African player at sixth. He was also the highest-placed Premier League player.

Earlier this year, we suggested that France’s N’Golo Kanté deserved to be crowned the world’s best soccer player. For the record, the voters placed him 11th.