Lionel Messi beat Robert Lewandowski to the 2021 Ballon d’Or, but it was close. Messi received 613 points, while the Pole got 580 and Jorginho got 460.
Messi’s Copa América campaign was surely the most important reason for his victory. He was the top scorer, top assister, and best player of the tournament, which he also won. He had a final to forget but was unplayable in essentially every other game.
However, his form for Barcelona should not be overlooked. He played the majority of his minutes with the Catalans for the time period that qualifies, which goes from January 1st to October 24th, when voting closed.
While his current team is Paris Saint-Germain, Messi had completed 90 minutes only 3 times for PSG across all competitions by the 24th.
Barcelona entered the new year 13 points back from first in La Liga, but what came was a blistering climb up the table, though it ultimately fell short.
In any case, Messi himself was in top form. He scored 23 goals and gave 8 assists in just 21 games, winning 16 man-of-the-match awards according to WhoScored. That allowed Messi to secure the Pichichi Trophy for the fifth time in a row, a new record. (It was also Messi’s 8th win overall, which extended his own record.)
Then, he won the Copa del Rey final with a brace and a man-of-the-match performance.
Still, with Barcelona finishing third in La Liga and out of the UEFA Champions League early, individual stats and a cup win would not be enough for Messi to win the Ballon d’Or.
That only really became a possibility when Argentina won the South American trophy, with Messi in the driver’s seat.
But we shouldn’t forget that Messi’s big numbers and elite performances with Barcelona played a part, too. Without those, he would’ve legitimately been a one-tournament wonder. And he would probably not win the prestigious individual award.