This prize has been the property of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for the past 10 years but two vacant seats on the front row showed that, disappointingly, neither had accepted the invitation to be at the decadent Grand Palais in Paris for what was a glitzy ceremony.
Luka Modric saw off competition from France’s World Cup stars as the Real Madrid and Croatia midfielder won the Ballon d’Or on Monday to end a 10-year stranglehold on the award by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Modric, 33, was announced as the winner of the prestigious prize in Paris ahead of Ronaldo and French World Cup winner Antoine Griezmann.
Modric, 33 – the first ‘new’ winner since Brazil great Kaka in 2007 – has had an exceptional 12 months. He was instrumental in helping his club, Real Madrid, win a third consecutive Champions League in May and then became the heartbeat in the Croatia team that reached the World Cup final.
Former Brazil and AC Milan forward Kaka, in 2007, was the last player other than Messi or Ronaldo to win it.
Ronaldo, who joined Juventus from Real Madrid in the summer, came second.
Barcelona forward Messi finished fifth, with Atletico Madrid frontman Antoine Griezmann and PSG attacker Kylian Mbappe – both of whom won the World Cup with France – third and fourth respectively.
Victory caps a stellar year for Modric, who also was named the world’s top male player at the Best Fifa Football Awards and received the Golden Ball award for the best player at the World Cup.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Modric dedicated the award to all of the other players who have missed out in the 10 years dominated by Messi and Ronaldo.
“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,” he said.
“This award is for all the players who probably deserved to win it and didn’t. It was a really special year for me.
“It is difficult to express my emotion and how I feel in words. It is something unique for me. It was very special.”
Modric described Ronaldo and Messi as “phenomenal players”, adding: “To win means I did something really special on the pitch this year, that’s why 2017-18 was the year for me.”
Modric was one of eight Real Madrid players in the top 30, including Wales international Gareth Bale in 17th.
Lyon and Norway striker Ada Hegerberg, 23, won the inaugural Women’s Ballon d’Or while Mbappe, 19, became the first winner of the Kopa Trophy – awarded to the best under-21 player and selected by former Ballon d’Or winners.
1. Luka Modric (Real Madrid and Croatia)
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus and Portugal)
3. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid and France)
4. Kylian Mbappe (Paris St-Germain and France)
5. Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina)
6. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool and Egypt)
7. Raphael Varane (Real Madrid and France)
8. Eden Hazard (Chelsea and Belgium)
9. Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City and Belgium)
10. Harry Kane (Tottenham and England)
What is the Ballon d’Or?
The Ballon d’Or has been awarded by France Football every year since 1956, with England’s Stanley Matthews the first winner.
It was only for European players until 1995, when it expanded to become open for any player at a European club. From 2007 it opened up to the rest of the world.
The 30-man list of nominees is compiled by the editorial staff of the French magazine, with the winner voted for by journalists from around the world, with one representative per nation.
From 2010 to 2015 it merged with Fifa’s awards, but they split and the world governing body set up its own awards again in 2016.
How did Premier League players do?
Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, who set a record for the most goals in a 38-game English top-flight campaign last season, was the highest-placed Premier League player in sixth.
Chelsea forward Eden Hazard was eighth, followed by Belgium team-mate Kevin de Bruyne, of Manchester City, in ninth.
Tottenham striker Harry Kane, who captained England to the World Cup semi-finals and won the Golden Boot, finished 10th as the only Englishman on the shortlist.
Chelsea and France midfielder N’Golo Kante was 11th, with World Cup-winning team-mate Paul Pogba, of Manchester United, finishing 15th.
Sergio Aguero, a Premier League winner with Manchester City last season, was 16th, while Liverpool’s Champions League finalists Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were 19th and 22nd respectively.
Brazil goalkeeper Alisson, who joined Liverpool from Roma in the summer, was 25th, with Tottenham and France captain Hugo Lloris 29th.