Luka Modric is currently the overwhelming favorite to win the Ballon d’Or. That was the case before the voting started and is even more true now that a French journalist revealed he is ahead with over half the votes counted. Along with what Modric and his teams achieved on the pitch, another factor pushing him towards that prize is a recent change in the Ballon d’Or voting system. From 2010 through 2015, the Ballon d’Or merged with the FIFA Player of the Year to create the FIFA Ballon d’Or award. This combined award included votes from journalists, national team captains, and national team managers. Starting in 2016 though, the partnership ended and the Ballon d’Or returned to being its own prize. This adjustment means that the Ballon d’Or is now exclusively decided by journalist votes.
These changes benefit Modric because journalists tend to heavily team success and performance on the biggest stage. This was very evident recently in the 2010 and 2013 voting. Messi and Ronaldo won the FIFA Ballon d’Or both years and were almost unanimously considered the top two players around. However, the journalist vote still went to Sneijder and Ribery respectively. Neither may have had the stats or brand of Messi and Ronaldo, but their incredible success with their teams and maybe also their underdog appeal evidently won the journalists over,
This pattern of favoring collective success was also evident in 2006, the most recent World Cup year under the current voting system. In 2006, Ronaldinho was widely regarded as the best player in the world and performed that way for Barcelona all year. However, he didn’t even make the top three of the award after a disappointing World Cup. Instead, the top three spots all went to players who reached the World Cup Final, with Italy’s Cannavaro finishing first.
After journalists had their votes overridden in 2010 and 2013, there may also be a motivation for them to make a statement in this year’s voting. In Modric, they probably have the perfect player to do that. In 2018, he won the Champions League, won best player at the World Cup, led Croatia to an unprecedented World Cup Final, and is a less flashy world class player that has gone under the radar for years. With Messi and Ronaldo underperforming on the biggest stages this year and a new voting system in place, the stage now looks perfectly set for Modric to break their Ballon d’Or duopoly on December 3rd in Paris.