World football's most prestigious individual accolade was back up for grabs this year, with the ceremony taking place in Paris on Tuesday (AEDT), where Messi was announced as the winner with Lewandowski second.
The Bayern Munich striker would almost certainly have won his maiden Ballon d'Or in 2020, only for France Football to decide not to hand out the award due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was pipped by Paris Saint-Germain star Messi this year in the running for the 2021 iteration.
Lewandowski did get the consolation prize of the inaugural Striker of the Year award.
Was it the right choice, though? Here are the stats which could justify why Messi won the award.
Last season: Barca swansong v Muller's record
Few anticipated that the first half of 2021 would also be the final half-season of Messi's time at Barcelona.
His sensational free transfer to PSG at the end of the campaign was forced by financial issues at the Catalan club, and he bid a tearful goodbye to the Camp Nou, but not before signing off with a few more goals.
Messi's last LaLiga campaign before heading off to France saw him bag 30 goals in 35 games, with a further five in six Champions League games.
However, team awards were scarce, with just a Copa del Rey to show for his efforts. Barca finished a meek third in LaLiga, and were eliminated – somewhat ironically – by PSG in the last 16 of the Champions League.
Something that may have counted against Lewandowski was his own lack of silverware compared to the previous year, where he and Bayern hoovered up a remarkable treble, including the Champions League. It did though still retain the Bundesliga title with relative ease, as well as clinching the UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup.
It was eliminated from the Champions League at the quarter-final stage, also by a pre-Messi PSG, though this can hardly be blamed on the Polish striker, who missed both legs of the tie through injury.
Lewandowski himself remained in outstanding form, and last season broke Gerd Muller's 49-year record for goals scored in a single Bundesliga campaign, netting 41 for Die Roten in just 29 league games, with a deadly shot conversion percentage across the season of 29.93.
It may have been Messi's superior creativity that helped sway the judges, creating 77 chances in his 35 league games, 22 of which were big chances, compared to 32 and nine from Lewandowski in his 29 league appearances in Germany.
The former Barca man did only manage two more assists than Lewandowski (nine to seven) but completed 159 dribbles and 1,068 successful passes ending in the final third, compared to the Pole's 22 and 237. Of course, it should be noted that Messi's role is typically a deeper one than Lewandowski's, so those latter statistics are not too surprising.
This season: New adventures v same old story
Messi's start to a new life in a new league has not exactly matched the inevitable expectations that accompanied his arrival in Paris.
The 34-year-old has just one goal in seven appearances in Ligue 1 with a shot conversion percentage of just 4.17, though he does have three in four Champions League games for Mauricio Pochettino's side.
Lewandowski has continued to plunder goals against all-comers, with 25 goals in 20 games in all competitions for Bayern, including an incredible nine in five Champions League games, and his shot conversion rate is currently even better than last season at 30.86 per cent.
In all competitions, the former Borussia Dortmund striker has played almost twice as many games as Messi (20 to 11) so it is tricky to compare them too accurately in terms of output, but Lewandowski has created 26 chances to Messi's 18, with six big chances created to five, while Messi has the edge on assists (three to two), dribbles completed (22 to 20) and successful passes ending in the final third (222 to 146).
So far you would have to say it is the Pole who is impressing most in the current campaign, having also had a more productive season last time out, so where exactly did Messi win this award?
Internationals: Argentina v Poland
Despite being an individual award, there is no doubt that team accolades often play a big part in swaying the judges, and an eventful pre-season for Messi at club level was arguably the only thing that could possibly have overshadowed what happened at international level as he finally lifted his first trophy in an Argentina shirt.
Messi scored four goals and gave five assists as he led the Albiceleste to their first Copa America title since 1993, being involved in nine of the 12 goals scored by Argentina at the tournament.
Lewandowski, on the other hand, had less success at Euro 2020, with Poland crashing out at the group stage of the re-arranged tournament.
Their star striker still managed to score three goals in three games for his country, but was unable to force them into the knockout stages.
Very little creates debate in football quite like the Ballon d'Or, and on the face of it this year's trophy could have gone either way, with honourable mentions for the likes of Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mohamed Salah and Karim Benzema.
It is Messi's Ballon d'Or in 2021 though, and it seems that Copa America success is what tipped it in his favour. PSG fans will be hoping that a domestic trophy haul over the next 12 months can see him installed as favourite to secure his eighth award next year, ahead of potentially his last attempt at World Cup success with Argentina.