Lionel Messi claimed the men's Ballon d'Or prize for the seventh time after a turbulent year, admitting that winning the Copa America with Argentina might have been the determining factor in clinching the award.
34-year-old Messi pipped much-fancied rivals like Robert Lewandowski and Karim Benzema to take the award in a glittering ceremony in Paris on Monday.
Despite his tearful goodbye from Barcelona and his relatively underwhelming start to life in France with Paris Saint-Germain, the jury of journalists from around the world rewarded him in particular for captaining Argentina to their first major international title since 1993.
"Two years ago I thought I was coming into my final years but here I am again back here," said Messi, who won the last edition of the Ballon d'Or in 2019 before last year's awards were cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.
Messi also won in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and in 2015.
"What I achieved with Argentina was a dream come true. I think I won this trophy thanks to what we did at the Copa America, so I dedicate it to my teammates."
Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in the final in Rio de Janeiro as Messi won a major title with his country for the first time. He also scored 38 goals in 48 games in his final season with Barcelona and won the Copa del Rey.
Poland striker Robert Lewandowski would have been a shoe-in in 2020, when he scored 45 goals in 37 games for Bayern, only for the awards to be cancelled.
He ended last season with a remarkable 41 Bundesliga goals but had to settle for second place in the voting for the Ballon d'Or, which is organised by France Football magazine and voted for by a panel of journalists from around the world.
Lewandowski was given a consolation prize for the year's best goal-scorer and received glowing praise from Messi.
Midfielder Jorginho, who won the Champions League with Chelsea and Euro 2020 with Italy, came third, followed by Real Madrid's Karim Benzema and another Chelsea player, N'Golo Kante.
Five-time winner Cristiano Ronaldo came sixth. He was absent from the ceremony.
Putellas succeeds Rapinoe
2021 marked the third year that a women's Ballon d'Or has been awarded, with Alexia Putellas following in the footsteps of Norway's Ada Hegerberg, winner in 2018, and the United States' 2019 World Cup superstar Megan Rapinoe.
Spain international Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year's Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0.
The 27-year-old also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012 and who are fast becoming the dominant force in the women's game.
"I am sure I won't be the last Barcelona player to win the prize. This is just the beginning," said Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football's governing body UEFA.