Luka Modric (C) of Croatia and Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe (R) of France and PSG and Ada Hegerberg of Sweden and Olympique Lyonnais pose with their trophy during the 2018 Ballon D'Or ceremony in Paris on Monday. Photo: Collected

Luka Modric’s journey from Croatian war child to the world’s best footballer was celebrated Monday when the Real Madrid midfielder hoisted the Ballon d’Or, while another first saw Norwegian forward Ada Hegerberg win the inaugural women’s trophy, report agencies.
Messi and Ronaldo had won every Ballon d’Or since 2008, and usually fought only each other for the greatest recognition among soccer’s elite. Women’s fight for recognition on the biggest stage took a big step with Hegerberg’s award.
Modric won the Champions League with Real Madrid and then guided Croatia to the World Cup final in July. The midfielder was voted player of the tournament.
“As a kid we all have dreams. My dream was to play for a big club and win important trophies,” Modric said. “The Ballon d’Or was more than just a dream for me and it is really an honor and a privilege to hold this trophy.”
Ronaldo was second in the polling followed by France forward Antoine Griezmann. France’s teen star, Kylian Mbappe, was fourth. Brazil star Neymar was third last year but only 12th this time.
Messi was fifth in the voting, having been runner-up to Ronaldo the past two years and in the top three every year since 2007. Modric had never previously been in the top three. The 19-year-old Mbappe — the youngest player to score in a World Cup final — won the Raymond Kopa Trophy awarded to the best young player.
Meanwhile, the star-studded Paris ceremony could hardly be further removed from Modric’s early years as a child refugee, fleeing the burned-out shell of a remote Croatian cottage where he spent part of his childhood.
Hidden in the folds of Velebit mountain, with the nearest neighbours several kilometres away, trees now grow inside the roofless ruin and a sign warns of “Mines – Keep out!”
The player’s grandfather, also named Luka, lived in the house, lying on a mountain road winding through the Modrici hamlet.
His grandfather was killed by Serb forces, the house was burned and the family fled to the coastal town of Zadar, some 40 kilometres (19 miles) away.
It was there that Modric, born in 1985, began his footballing odyssey, drawing attention for the first time to his budding abilities.
“I heard about a little hyperactive boy constantly playing with a football in the corridor of a refugee hotel, even going to sleep with it,” said Josip Bajlo, who was then coach at the First Division club NK Zadar.
As soon as Bajlo saw Modric play he signed him up for the club’s football school, where he immediately stood out. The 1991-1995 war with Serb rebels, during which Zadar and the surrounding region were heavily shelled, toughened Modric, according to those close to him.
“It happened a million times that we were going to training as the shells were falling, and we were running to shelters,” said childhood friend Marijan Buljat, who trained and played with Modric while growing up. Modric left Zadar, where he remains a legend, for Dinamo Zagreb in 2000 and then joined English Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur in 2008. After a bidding war he was snapped up by Real
Madrid in 2012.