Ronaldo finished second, unable to add a sixth trophy to his collection, while France and Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann completed a Messi-less top three.
Here, we look at how the jury voted to rank the players selected as the 30 best on the planet by France Football. Ballon d’Or 2018.
After a decade dominated by superstar forwards, Modric strikes a blow for the little man. A delightful midfield creator who has operated at the top of the game throughout a wonderful career. Real Madrid and Croatia’s years would have looked entirely different without him.
Unable to make it three in a row in the Ballon d’Or, Ronaldo did just that in the Champions League with Madrid, winning a third consecutive final against Liverpool and his fifth overall. A hat-trick in Portugal’s 3-3 draw against Spain illuminated the opening days of the World Cup and the 33-year-old is already into double figures at Juventus.
One of the most consistent forwards in world football, Griezmann scored a brace as Atletico Madrid beat Marseille 3-0 in the Europa League final. A converted penalty in France’s 4-2 World Cup final win over Croatia was his fourth of the tournament. Adding LaLiga or the Champions League with Atleti this season would give him a strong case to finish on the top step next time around.
Looks every inch a future winner of this award, possibly on multiple occasions. Torpedoed Messi’s World Cup dreams with a virtuoso display for France against Argentina in Russia and a brilliant finish in the final was his fourth goal of the tournament. Firing Paris Saint-Germain to definitive Champions League performances is the next target for the 19-year-old.
In 2018, Messi has scored 41 goals and supplied 20 assists in 45 games across all competitions for Barcelona, his 61 goal involvements more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues. His relatively lowly place in the standings suggests such relentless brilliance is now simply taken for granted. A stunning goal against Nigeria was a rare highlight for him as Argentina’s World Cup campaign faltered.
Swept the board in England’s end-of-season awards after a truly remarkable return of 44 goals in all competitions for Champions League finalists Liverpool. A shoulder injury meant Egypt were denied their talisman being in such formidable form at the World Cup.
At his best, Varane performs with a composure and authority beyond his 25 years. Vital to Real Madrid and France gloriously reaching their goals this year.
A dazzling presence despite Chelsea’s relative struggles last season, Hazard netted the winning penalty in the FA Cup final and starred at the World Cup for Belgium. Threatened to reach new goalscoring heights under Maurizio Sarri earlier this term but has hit something of a drought recently.
Manchester City’s standout performer in their record-breaking Premier League triumph, De Bruyne’s brilliant goal helped down Brazil for Belgium to reach the World Cup semi-finals. Two knee-ligament injuries have hampered his progress this season.
The World Cup Golden Boot winner struck six times in Russia, showing nerves of steel from the penalty spot that had England dreaming that football might just be “coming home”. Already on to 12 in all competitions for Tottenham this season.
The two-time Premier League winner added the World Cup to his burgeoning collection in July. Currently adapting to a new box-to-box midfield role under Sarri at Chelsea.
A year on from his blockbuster switch to Paris Saint-Germain, Neymar’s Ballon d’Or ambitions can hardly be considered on track as he drops out of the top 10. A World Cup campaign memorable mainly for on-field histrionics did nothing for him from a public-relations point of view. Similar complaints over simulation were also present after the Brazil star unleashed his mesmerising quality upon Liverpool last month.
Barcelona not missing a beat on the back of Neymar’s departure to PSG owed much to Suarez’s enduring attacking partnership with Messi. Would have dearly loved to take Uruguay deeper into the World Cup than the quarter-finals.
Named the best goalkeeper at the World Cup before securing his dream move from Chelsea to Real Madrid, Belgium’s Courtois is the highest-ranked gloveman on the list.
His worth to Manchester United and relationship with Jose Mourinho continues to be a source of near-weekly debate, but Pogba came good when it mattered for France this year. He turned in a string of mature, accomplished performances and scored a wonderful goal in the final.
It has not always been the case but Aguero now appears entirely in sync with boss Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. He went past 200 goals for the club in August and reached 150 in the Premier League quicker than any of the other nine players to have achieved the feat in terms of minutes played.
Despite a career packed with incredible deeds for club and country, Bale is unlikely to top his game-changing cameo in the Champions League final. He scored twice, with his remarkable overhead kick arguably the finest goal ever to grace the showpiece.
Increasingly maligned for a lack of goals at Real Madrid, Benzema netted a brace in the semi-final win over Bayern Munich and capitalised on Loris Karius’ first final howler. A continued international exile meant he could only watch on as France conquered the world.
A tireless, intelligent forward playing in the image of his manager Jurgen Klopp, it is unlikely Liverpool and Salah would have flourished to such an extent were Firmino not leading their charge.
The artisanal foil to Modric’s artistry, it feels a little unfair to split Croatia’s long-standing midfield masters by so many places. Rakitic’s composure came to the fore when he netted the decisive penalties in shoot-out wins over Denmark and the hosts in Russia, where his exploits followed another LaLiga and Copa del Rey double with Barcelona.
Love him or hate him, Ramos underlined his status as a born winner in leading Real Madrid to another Champions League title. Spain’s World Cup sojourn was not so kind to him.
Became PSG’s all-time leading scorer in January and his superb brace for Uruguay knocked Portugal out of the World Cup. Had injury not ruled him out of the quarter-final against France, the story of Russia 2018 might have been very different.
The third member of Liverpool’s formidable front trio honoured by France Football, Mane briefly gave the Reds hope with a goal in the Kiev final – his 10th of the Champions League campaign.
Added the fourth Champions League winners’ medal of his career in May. It is hard to remember a time when Madrid’s Brazil international was not the world’s premier left-back.
Superb performances on Roma’s run to the Champions League semi-finals helped Alisson to secure his position as Brazil’s first-choice goalkeeper at the World Cup. His transfer to Liverpool briefly made him the most expensive keeper in history and the 26-year-old has brought solidity to Klopp’s defence.
After rounding off his Croatia career with the winner in the World Cup semi-final triumph over England and a goal in the final, Mandzukic is enjoying a flourishing alliance with Ronaldo in the Juventus attack.
Operating with impeccable assurance behind Atletico’s miserly backline, Oblak has established himself as one of the finest goalkeepers in the world and already has eight clean sheets across LaLiga and the Champions League this season.
Typically talismanic at centre-back for Atletico Madrid in LaLiga and on Uruguay’s run to the World Cup quarter-finals.
Trusted with a key role by then-coach Zinedine Zidane as Madrid conquered Europe again but unable to turn around an underwhelming World Cup effort from Spain and currently out of favour at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The goalkeeper who lifted the World Cup for France and remains captain for an ever-improving Tottenham side.