Lionel Messi became the inaugural winner of the FIFA Ballon d'Or at a glittering award ceremony in Zurich.
Argentina star Messi was selected ahead of Barcelona team-mates Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who both won the World Cup with Spain last summer.
Messi, 23, scored an astonishing 60 goals for club and country in 2010 and is regarded by many as the most gifted player of his generation.
He said: "To be honest, I didn't expect to win today, but it was already great to be here next to my two mates.
"To win it makes it even more special. I want to share with all of my friends, my family, all the Barcelonistas and the Argentinians."
The FIFA Ballon d'Or was created following the merger of France Football magazine's Footballer of the Year prize with the FIFA World Player of the Year gong.
As such, it is awarded based on votes cast by journalists from around the world, as well as coaches and captains of national teams.
Messi was the holder of both titles and therefore joins former Brazil striker Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane as a multiple winner of the latter accolade.
Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff, Franz Beckenbauer, Kevin Keegan Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Ronaldo are the only other men to win the Ballon d'Or more than once.
Messi also became the first player to be awarded the prize in a World Cup year without having won the tournament since 1994, when non-Europeans were ineligible.
Jose Mourinho was named Coach of the Year ahead of World Cup-winning Spain boss Vicente del Bosque and Barcelona's Pep Guardiola for leading Inter Milan to an unprecedented Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble.
There was disappointment for Glentoran's Matty Burrows in the Goal of the Year prize, with his jaw-dropping backheeled volley against Portadown losing out to Hamit Altintop's relatively mundane volley for Turkey against Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile, tearful Brazil great Marta won a record fifth successive Women's Player of the Year award.
Award list in full:
Men's Player of the Year: Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina).
Women's Player of the Year: Marta (FC Gold Pride, Santos and Brazil).
Men's Coach of the Year: Jose Mourinho (Inter Milan and Real Madrid).
Women's Coach of the Year: Silvia Neid (Germany).
World XI: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain); Maicon (Inter Milana and Brazil), Gerard Pique (Barcelona and Spain), Lucio (Inter Milan and Brazil), Carles Puyol (Barcelona and Spain); Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain), Xavi (Barcelona and Spain), Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan and Holland); Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid and Portugal), David Villa (Barcelona and Spain), Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina).
Puskas Award (Goal of the Year): Hamit Altintop (Kazakhstan v TURKEY).
Fair Play Award: Haiti Women Under-17s.
Presidential Award: Desmond Tutu.