Ballon d'Or

Who was the last midfielder to win the Ballon d'Or?

Jamie Spencer
Luka Modric was named best player in the world in 2018
Luka Modric was named best player in the world in 2018 / VI-Images/GettyImages

The Ballon d’Or has been a staple of the football calendar since 1956 as a way of recognising the footballer believed to have achieved the most over the course of a year.

Conceived by sports writers Gabriel Hanot and Jacques Ferran, with a jury of journalists ultimately choosing the winner. These days, each member of the jury makes their top five selections based on three main criteria and a points-based system determines the winner.

The three criteria are performances, both as an individual and part of a team, a player’s class based on talent and fair play, as well as overall judgement of a player’s career.

The Ballon d’Or was also originally known as the ‘European Footballer of the Year’ award as it was only open to players from Europe, infamously excluding the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona.

This was the case for nearly 40 years until 1995 when it was opened up to all players based at European clubs – Liberian forward George Weah became the first non-European winner that very year – while in 2007 it became truly global for any professional player at any club around the world.

The award was presented by revered magazine France Football from 1956 until 2009, with FIFA then coming on board from 2010 onwards and combining it with the rival FIFA World Player of the Year prize to create a new FIFA Ballon d’Or. But that merger only lasted until 2015.

Since 2016, it has simply been the Ballon d’Or presented by France Football once more.

Who was the last midfielder to win the Ballon d'Or?

From 2008 to 2017, no one other than Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi had won the Ballon d’Or in an unprecedented period of dominance by just two players.

Since its inception, the Ballon d’Or has naturally been nominated by attacking players. Whether that has been out and out strikers, ‘number 10’ creatives, wingers or wide forwards, they are the individuals who most affect games and determine whether teams are successful.

Players who operate deeper and don’t typically score goals often have to do a lot more to get that level of recognition. Even when it comes to more conventional central midfielders, goals help, as German legend Lothar Matthaus found to his benefit when he won in 1990.

Zinedine Zidane also went on to win after two goals in the 1998 World Cup final.

The likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta, worthy winners in any other era, could never catch a break. Meanwhile, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard were beaten to the prize by Ronaldinho in 2005. But in 2018, the stars aligned for Luka Modric to scoop the prize.

Why did Luka Modric win the Ballon d'Or in 2018?

With Messi underwhelming in 2018 – by his own incredible standards – there were a number of contenders for the Ballon d’Or that year. Mohamed Salah scored 44 goals for Liverpool, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann each won the World Cup, while Raphael Varane was the only player to win both the World Cup and the Champions League.

But Modric stood out above the rest. He had been crucial to Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph, the club’s third European title in a row, and had been the driving force behind Croatia’s unexpected run to the World Cup final, taking home the Golden Ball as player of the tournament.

Even though Croatia didn’t win the final, it was enough to seal Modric’s place in football history.