How Lionel Messi’s Hong Kong visit went from cheers to jeers and anger
Inter Miami ‘sorry’ for Messi let-down as club responds to ‘consuming headlines and negativity’, eyes Hong Kong return
- Inter Miami issues statement in response to fierce criticism over Sunday’s doomed exhibition match in Hong Kong
- American club complete preseason tour with game against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on Wednesday
Inter Miami have responded to the backlash over Lionel Messi’s no-show in Sunday’s exhibition match at Hong Kong Stadium, and said they “tried everything possible” for the Argentine to play.
Messi sat out the game against a Hong Kong XI, with an adductor injury blamed for his absence. Speaking on Tuesday, in Tokyo, where Inter Miami complete their global preseason tour against Vissel Kobe today, the 36-year-old said it was “a shame” he could not take part, and he hoped to return to Hong Kong to play.
In a 468-word statement issued to the Post on Wednesday, Inter Miami expressed similar sentiments.
The club said it felt “compelled to reiterate the reality of these types of sports injuries”, in light of the ongoing “headlines and negativity towards the different stakeholders”.
Inter Miami added they “would be eager to return to beautiful Hong Kong in the future, should the fans be open to receiving the Club again”. The club did not address the question of whether they would make a goodwill gesture, or reimburse fans.
Organisers Tatler Asia have come under fire from fans who paid up to HK$4,480 for tickets, in the expectation of watching one of the greats of the sport. Equally, the government have demanded Tatler explain the PR calamity.
Another marquee figure, striker Luis Suarez, missed the match, and Inter Miami and Messi were subject to the fury of a Hong Kong public that felt exploited and let down by the whole affair.
“Inter Miami CF is honoured to have been able to visit Hong Kong,” began the club’s statement, sent in response to Post questions on Wednesday morning.
“To be welcomed by nearly 80,000 people in a two-day span, between the club’s open training session [a ticketed event at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday] and the match against the Hong Kong Team, was extraordinary and something our Club and our players will always remember.
“Despite our best intentions, we understand there has been disappointment over the absence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez in Sunday’s match and we are sorry that the two players could not participate.
“We also recognise that the late decision caused frustration among our Hong Kong supporters and the event promoter, Tatler Asia. We do feel it necessary to express that injuries are unfortunately a part of the beautiful game, and our player’s health must always come first.
“We also want to reassure you that the players who represent our club always want to play, as you heard from Messi in Tuesday’s press conference in Tokyo.”
Tatler CEO Michael Lamuniere, speaking 24 hours after the event, said the inclusion of Messi and Suarez on the pre-match team sheet submitted by Inter Miami, gave the organisers “every expectation both would play”.
Explaining the chain of events around Messi’s name appearing on that team sheet, before he watched the entire game from the bench, Inter Miami’s statement continued: “On Sunday, the club opted to make a game-time decision. Doing this offered the largest window of time to allow for the chance that the two players could be made available for selection.
“The goal was always for them to play, which was why they were both included in the initial roster that was submitted to the promoter prior to the match. We could have ruled out the players before, but with our best intentions we waited until the last moments, which further emphasises our commitment to try everything possible.
“Messi did not go out to warm up because he was still being assessed in the locker room prior to the match. From there, it was deemed too risky for him to play. Ultimately, the circumstances required that both players be withheld from participating in the match, as the medical staff advised it would have been a risk to their health.”
The Inter Miami statement concluded by thanking Tatler for their effort in staging the match, and expressing a wish to return to Hong Kong, if the club was welcome.
“We want to express our gratitude to Tatler Asia for their dedication and hard work in making our Hong Kong experience possible. The organisers did everything they could to put on a wonderful event, yet players get injured in football and this is no one’s fault.
“It is one part of the beautiful game that is cruel, and impacted our visit to Hong Kong on this occasion. As we continue to consume the headlines and negativity towards the different stakeholders, we felt compelled to reiterate the reality of these types of sports injuries.
“Hong Kong is a world class city and a wonderful venue to play football, as it can easily draw in people from all over the region given its amazing transport links. It is also full of passionate football supporters who love the game. Inter Miami would be eager to return to beautiful Hong Kong in the future, should the fans be open to receiving the club again.”