The Polish striker was the runaway favourite to win the prestigious golden ball, awarded by France Football to the best player in the world in a calendar year, in 2020, only for the prize to be cancelled amid the pandemic.
Lewandowski, 33, finished second this time around after scoring 38 goals in 30 league games for Bayern in 2021, in addition to winning the Bundesliga, but it was not enough.
Fast forward 12 months and Messi, who won his first major title with Argentina by lifting the Copa America, was recognised with his seventh Ballon d’Or, leaving Lewandowski still without one.
‘This can not be true,’ German newspaper Bild wrote on Tuesday. ‘It is a scandalous choice.’
Germany legend Lothar Matthaus, who himself won the Ballon d’Or back in 1990, said that he ‘doesn’t understand the world anymore’ after ‘extraordinary’ Lewandowski, who came second, was snubbed for the top prize.
‘To be honest, after this decision I don’t understand the world anymore,’ Matthaus told Sky Sports Germany.
‘With all due respect to Lionel Messi and all the other great nominated players. Nobody deserves it like Lewandowski. France Football didn’t award the prize last year, and if only because of all the titles that Robert has won with Bayern 2020, he is unrivalled not only in the last two years.
‘But even if you only take 2021 into account, he was better than the rest. He broke Gerd Müller’s record of the century, is again top of the top scorers list in every competition, and has surpassed everyone nationally and internationally this year as well.’
Lewandowski was crowned the Best FIFA Men’s Player last year following a sensational 2019-20 season in which he scored a combined total of 47 goals for club and country.
The 33-year-old’s goals propelled Bayern to a famous treble, as the Bavarian giants won the Champions League, the German Cup and an eighth consecutive Bundesliga title.
Lewandowski then added another Bundesliga title last season – his seventh in a row – plundering 48 goals in 40 appearances in all competitions and breaking the late Muller’s record for most goals in a single Bundesliga season with 41, but it was not enough to win France Football’s biggest prize.
Real Madrid midfielder Toni Kroos and club legend Iker Casillas joined in on the criticism of Messi’s latest Ballon d’Or win, with the German midfielder claiming ‘it’s absolutely not deserved’.
Kroos, speaking on his podcast, was fiercely critical of the decision to name Messi as the victor before also revealing who he voted for in his top three.
Speaking on his podcast, Kroos said: ‘It’s absolutely not deserved. There is no doubt that Messi, with Cristiano, has been the player of the last decade, but this year there should’ve been others ahead of him.’
His Real Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema was in his top three along with Lewandowski and Chelsea midfielder Jorginho.
Casillas also added that the Paris Saint-Germain star should not have won the top prize.
The Spaniard said: ‘It is increasingly difficult for me to believe in football awards. Messi is one of the best but you have to know who is the most outstanding player after the season. It’s not that hard.’
Even after winning the award Messi himself acknowledged that Lewandowski had been wrongly denied a Ballon d’Or.
The Argentine 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.’
Lewandowski, who was seen sitting next to Messi during the ceremony in Paris, was magnanimous in defeat as he applauded his Argentine rival.
His wife, Anna, showed what she thought of the decision on Instagram, writing: My love, for me you are the best! I am always proud of you! I love you to the moon and back!’
With his latest success, Messi added to his 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 trophies. He played down any talk of retirement in his victory speech.
‘It is incredible to be here again,’ said Messi in Paris on Monday night.
‘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.’