Luka Modric narrowly missed out on winning the World Cup this year, but he did walk away with FIFA’s highest individual honor on Monday.
The Croatia and Real Madrid star midfielder was awarded Best FIFA men’s player of 2018, beating out former teammate Cristiano Ronaldo and Mohamed Salah.
“This trophy is not just mine, it’s for all my Real Madrid teammates, for all my teammates from the Croatian national team, for all coaches that I have played for,” he said at the Best FIFA Football Awards held in London, “because without them this would not be possible.”
Modric went on to thank his family, fans who voted for him, and Zvonimir Boban, the captain of the Croatian 1998 World Cup team that achieved a third-place finish in France, calling him his “footballing idol.”
“He gave us belief that we could achieve something great in Russia, and hopefully we will do the same for the next generation,” Modric said.
Entrenched in history
Each of the three men’s footballer of the year finalists had intriguing backstories leading up to the event.
Ronaldo — whose fans are still adjusting to seeing in a Juventus jersey — was denied a third consecutive FIFA best men’s player award. The former Real Madrid “Galactico” clinched his third Champions League title in a row and fifth overall last season.
Liverpool’s Salah returned to the Premier League with mixed expectations, following a two-year stint with Roma and bumpy spell at Chelsea, only to score a Premier League record 32 goals, and 44 in total last season.
His World Cup campaign was marked by drama off the pitch. Although he scored two goals in his return from a shoulder injury for winless Egypt, he was embroiled in controversy after posing with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov during training camp and took issue with the Egyptian FA.
Modric was a centerpiece of Real Madrid’s Champions League run, but leading Croatia to an improbable World Cup final appearance just 23 years after the country’s independence cemented his legacy back home.
Growing up during the Balkans war, Modric experienced its toll firsthand. His father joined the Croatian army, his grandfather was shot by Croatian Serb rebels and his house was burned down, forcing the family to flee to the Adriatic coast.
“It was an unbelievable season, the best season of my life,” the 32-year-old said before the event. “I’m very proud of all the good things I’ve achieved this year, and it will be remembered for a long time for sure.”
Goal of the year
FIFA’s Puskás Award — named after the celebrated Hungarian former Real Madrid player — is awarded to the goal of the year, determined entirely by fan voting.
This year’s winner was a physical goal by Salah against Liverpool’s crosstown rivals Everton. The goal, which received 38% of fan voting, took place on a snowy December night, where Salah swerved past two defenders and shot past a third to put his team ahead.
“I’m very happy and very proud,” he said at the podium. “I have to thank everyone who voted for me.”
The Champions League overhead kicks of former Real Madrid teammates Gareth Bale and Ronaldo were two of the most memorable goals of the past year — but came up short of an award.
Ronaldo’s blast was marked for the improbable levitation achieved by the striker from distance, while Bale’s broke open a tense 1-1 draw in the second half of the Champions League final against Liverpool.
The best goal category — established in 2009 — is inclusive of women, but none appeared on the top 10 list this year. Though a female has yet to win the award, Irish professional Stephanie Roche was shortlisted to the top three in 2014.
A number of other awards were handed out on the star-studded night, including the FIFPro World XI side, marking a global All-Star team for the year.
Four Real Madrid teammates made the cut. Modric was joined by Sergio Ramos, Ronaldo and Marcelo.
Belgian Thibaut Courtois, a recent Real Madrid transfer from Chelsea, won the best goalkeeper award. Olympique Lyonnais women’s team manager Reynald Pedros won best women’s coach. The top fans award went to Peru,
The award for best women’s player went to Brazilian Marta, a runner-up in 2016 and five-time winner of the the award’s previous incarnation, the FIFA World Player of the Year.
The awards were held for the third year running after football’s governing body ended its six-year association with the Ballon d’Or.
Top honors for men and women players and coaches were decided by a process that assigned four equal weights to the votes of fans, media, national team coaches and national team captains.
The final shortlists
BEST MEN’S PLAYER: Luka Modric, Mohamed Salah, Cristiano Ronaldo
BEST WOMEN’S PLAYER: Marta, Dzsenifer Maroszan, Ada Hegerberg
BEST MEN’S COACH: Zlatko Dalic, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps
BEST WOMEN’S COACH: Sarina Wiegman, Asako Takakura, Reynald Pedros
BEST GOALKEEPER: Thibaut Courtois, Hugo Lloris, Kasper Schmeichel