Ballon d'Or 2021 winner Lionel Messi has said that runner-up Robert Lewandowski deserved a Ballon d'Or of his own for his exploits last year.
Messi claimed the coveted award for a record-extending seventh time on Monday, while Bayern Munich forward Lewandowski won the inaugural Striker of the Year award and finished second in the Ballon d'Or voting.
The Paris Saint-Germain superstar has enjoyed a superb but bittersweet calendar year, highlighted by finally leading Argentina to success on the international stage with a Copa America victory in which he was both the tournament's top scorer and top assister.
He then returned to Barcelona expecting to sign a new deal, but the club's financial situation made it impossible.
In 40 club appearances this year between both Barca and PSG, Messi has managed an impressive 32 goals and 12 assists and was handed the gong by former team-mate Luis Suarez.
Lewandowski, meanwhile, continued the magnificent form he had displayed across 2020, when he led Bayern to a treble only for last year's edition of the award to be cancelled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 33-year-old scored 41 Bundesliga goals to break Gerd Muller's 49-year-old record while, so far in 2021, Lewandowski has netted 53 times in 42 appearances, the most of any player in Europe's top five leagues across all competitions.
Erling Haaland, his nearest challenger, is 15 back on 38. Lewandowski has averaged a goal every 67 minutes. Among those with 10 goals or more, club-mate Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting is the next most regular scorer, netting every 84 minutes.
"[Lewandowski], you deserve your Ballon d'Or," Messi said upon receiving the award. "Last year, everyone was in agreement to say that you were the big winner.
"Hopefully [France Football] give you the Ballon d’Or 2020."
Lewandowski sent his congratulations to the Ballon d'Or winners and nominees on social media, while thanking his teammates and fans for their support in helping him claim the Striker of the Year award.
"Congratulations Leo Messi and [Women's Ballon d'Or winner] Alexia Putellas, winners of the Ballon d'Or 2021, congratulations also to all nominated players," Lewandowski wrote on social media.
"I won [the] Striker of the Year Award and no player can win an individual award without [the] strongest team and loyal fans behind him. Thank you for your support."
Messi indicated in his acceptance speech a desire to keep playing, with retirement not on the 34-year-old's agenda in the near future.
"I don't know how many years I have left, but I hope there will still be many because I am having enormous fun," Messi added.