Lionel Messi has won the seventh men’s Ballon d’Or of his illustrious career at a ceremony in Paris.
The Paris St Germain forward saw off competition from Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski and Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.
Spain midfielder Alexia Putellas took home the women’s Ballon d’Or after winning a league, cup and Champions League treble with Barcelona.
The 27-year-old’s Barca team-mate Jennifer Hermoso was second, with Chelsea forward Sam Kerr third and Arsenal striker Vivianne Miedema fourth.
Argentina international Messi claimed a maiden Copa America title with his country during the year and was top scorer in LaLiga for the 2020-21 season with 30 goals as Barcelona finished third.
The 34-year-old also helped Barca win the Copa del Rey before moving to PSG in the summer.
He had collected the honour for a record sixth time in 2019 – one ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo – before the awards were cancelled in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is incredible to be here again,” said Messi according to Marca.
“Two years ago, I said that it was my last years, and that I didn’t know what was going to happen, and now I am here again.
“After that they began to ask me when I was going to retire and today I am in Paris. I am very happy and very excited, eager to continue fighting for new challenges.
“I don’t know how much I have left, but I hope it’s a lot, because I love this. Other times I won this award and I always had the feeling that something was missing.
“I felt gutted about something, and this year I was able to achieve the dream that I wanted so much after having fought and having gone through many falls.
“This award is largely because of what we (Argentina) did in the Copa America.”
Earlier, Manchester United forward Ronaldo – who came fifth – dismissed claims from French journalist Pascal Ferre that his main aim is to finish his career with more Ballon d’Or wins than Messi.
Ronaldo did not attend Monday’s event at the Theatre du Chatelet in the French capital but responded to Ferre, the editor of France Football – organisers of the Ballon d’Or, on social media.
“Pascal Ferre lied, he used my name to promote himself and to promote the publication he works for,” Portugal international Ronaldo posted on Instagram.
“It is unacceptable that the person responsible for awarding such a prestigious prize could lie in this way, in absolute disrespect for someone who has always respected France Football and the Ballon d’Or.”
Poland international Lewandowski, 33, who was widely expected to win last year, finished second after scoring 38 goals in 30 league games for Bayern in 2021, in addition to winning the Bundesliga.
Speaking of Lewandowski, Messi said: “You deserve your Ballon d’Or. Last year everyone agreed that you were the winner. I think France Football should give you your Ballon d’Or. You have to have it in your house.”
Meanwhile, Jorginho finished third after a year in which he helped Italy to glory at the delayed Euro 2020 after lifting the Champions League trophy with Chelsea in May.
Chelsea also won the club of the year award.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling was the highest-ranked England player for the men’s award, finishing 15th, with compatriots Mason Mount, Harry Kane and Phil Foden 19th, 23rd and 25th respectively.
Chelsea’s Fran Kirby was the highest-ranked England player for the women’s award, finishing 10th.
Winner Putellas, who ended the 2020-21 season as the highest-scoring midfielder in Europe with 26 goals in all competitions, received the award from Kylian Mbappe.
“I want to thank all the teammates that I have met in my career, but especially those that I currently have,” she said. “It is an individual award but It is a collective success, I feel that way.”
Barcelona and Spain midfielder Pedri won the Kopa Trophy, the award presented to the best-performing player under the age of 21.
The 19-year-old was selected immediately ahead of England and Borussia Dortmund midfielder Jude Bellingham, while Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood was fifth and Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka sixth.
Gianluigi Donnarumma of Italy and PSG won the Yashin Trophy as goalkeeper of the year, while Lewandowski – whose 41 Bundesliga goals in the 2020-21 campaign broke Gerd Muller’s long-standing season record – was crowned striker of the year.