The Swedish superstar singled out another legendary attacking player instead, and chose two-time World Cup winner, Ronaldo Nazario instead.
Messi won a record-extending seventh Ballon d'Or after another stellar year in 2021 to move him two ahead of CR7's total of five Golden Balls.
The pair have consistently been the two best players for more than 10 years, and won the biggest prizes on offer in the game.
But despite praising Messi's attitude to the game, the Swede echoed the claims that Robert Lewandowski should have taken this year's prize.
"Leo lives for football. But Lewandowski deserved the Ballon d'Or this year," he told Corriere della Sera:
Ibrahimovic saw Messi's brilliance first hand during his one season at the Camp Nou, but still ranks the Brazilian Ronaldo ahead of the diminutive Argentine when being pushed to say who he believes is the greatest player of all time.
"Both are very strong. I say Messi also because we played together.
"Ronaldo is the phenomenon. As a child I imitated him."
The case for Ronaldo is certainly a compelling one, after scoring 62 goals in 98 caps for his country - this includes a brace in a 2-0 win over Germany in the 2002 World Cup Final, after being part of the squad which won the tournament in 1994.
Ronaldo is second in the all-time list of top scorers in the competition, with 15 strikes in 19 appearances - one behind Miroslav Klose who played five more games than the Brazilian.
He won the Ballon d'Or twice in 1997 and 2002, and claimed the Best FIFA Men's Player award in 1996, 1997 and in 2002.
- Alisha Lehmann asked Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi by fan, she didn’t hesitate with her response
- Piers Morgan reveals all-time world football XI on Twitter, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
- Fans fume as Reece James picks between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi
- Cristiano Ronaldo has been named in the worst team of the World Cup group stages