It took 10 years of watching from the shadows and another of phenomenal playmaking to break world football's duopoly, but Luka Modric eventually made history to become the first Croatian to be crowned FIFA's Men's Player of the Year. After Kaka in 2007, Modric is the first player who is not named Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, to win a FIFA POTY award.
Modric had won the UEFA Champions League with Real Madrid for a third consecutive year and led his national team to the World Cup final. Modric staved off competition from Ronaldo and Mohammed Salah to finish atop the podium this year at the Best FIFA Football Awards function on Monday.
Brazilian superstar Marta was named the Women's POTY, while Didier Deschamps and Salah picked up awards in the best coach and best goal categories, respectively.
In London's Royal Festival Hall, which was brimming with legends of the game, British actor Idris Elba played host, though most of his gags were lost on the multilingual crowd. He was joined in part by Sir Patrick Stewart.
As is the norm in a World Cup year, most categories had nominees who were noted for their exploits on the grand stage in Russia. Deschamps was rewarded for guiding the French national side to their first World Cup in 20 years.
Deschamps beat Croatian national team coach Zlatko Dalic to the award, as well as former French teammate Zinedine Zidane, who left Real Madrid this year after a hat trick of Champions League titles. The award was presented to Deschamps by his compatriot, Arsene Wenger.
All three finalists for the goalkeeper awards—Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Hugo Lloris (France) and Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)—were heroes for their national teams at the World Cup. And, the tournament's golden glove winner, Courtois, got to take home yet another award.
Marta won her sixth FIFA POTY award. Regarded as one of the greatest women players of all time, the Brazilian had won it for five consecutive years from 2006 to 2010, but had to wait another eight years to win it again.
For his wonderful solo effort against Everton, Salah won the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year, early on at the event. It seemed almost obvious by then that the Egyptian would not be the recipient of the bigger prize he was hoping to win.
Yet, it was Salah's absence from the FIFPro World XI team, despite being a POTY contender, that seemed most baffling. The team comprised David De Gea, Dani Alves, Raphael Varane, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo, Luka Modric, N'Golo Kante, Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mbappe (20) became the youngest player to feature in the World XI team, while Messi and Ronaldo were the only two players who were not present to collect their accolades. Incidentally, all three finalists of last year's POTY award gave the event a miss this year. Neymar's name was not mentioned even once throughout.
At the end of the night, Modric was the star of the show as his work behind the scenes for both club and country was duly recognised. The unassuming Croat was effusive in his praise of his teammates in his acceptance speech, as a sulking Salah looked on.
The FIFA Best Awards, which was earlier called the FIFA Player of the Year Awards, had merged with France Football's long-running Ballon D'Or from 2010 to 2015, before being re-branded. Votes are decided by media representatives, national team coaches, national team captains and the general public, each group getting a 25 per cent weightage of the overall vote.