Messi and Suarez Absence Elicits Mixed Reactions
In Hong Kong, a pre-season friendly involving Inter Miami sparked disappointment among fans when Lionel Messi, the 36-year-old Argentina World Cup winner, did not participate due to a hamstring injury. Despite Messi being sidelined, Inter Miami secured a 4-1 victory against a local League XI in front of almost 40,000 spectators.
The atmosphere turned tense as chants of "refund" echoed through the stadium, and even a speech by Inter co-owner David Beckham was overshadowed by booing. The Hong Kong government noted that Messi was contractually obligated to play at least 45 minutes, a commitment that did not materialize.
Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary for culture, sports, and tourism, expressed disappointment, stating that government officials were assured of Messi's participation but were informed of his abductor injury just 10 minutes before the match concluded. The government proposed alternative solutions, such as Messi appearing on the field to engage with fans and receive the trophy, but these attempts were unsuccessful.
Match organizers Tatler Asia may face financial consequences due to Messi's absence from the game. The government's major sports events committee (MSEC) expressed its discontent with the organizers, indicating that an explanation is owed to all football fans. The MSEC also mentioned the possibility of reducing funding due to Messi not fulfilling the agreed-upon playing time.
The funding agreement between the MSEC and Tatler Asia stipulated Messi's participation for at least 45 minutes, subject to fitness and safety considerations. Despite a near-capacity crowd of 38,323 paying over 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£101) per ticket, Messi did not play. Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, another notable player for Inter Miami, was also absent due to a knee injury.
During the match, chants of "we want Messi" intensified, underscoring the disappointment of fans who were eager to witness the star player in action. Even David Beckham, attempting to express gratitude to the supporters after the game, faced jeers from the disgruntled crowd.
The organizers clarified that Tatler Asia had no prior information about Messi and Suarez's non-participation and cited the decision as a result of their team's medical department deeming the players unfit to play.
Inter Miami manager Gerardo Martino expressed understanding towards the fans' disappointment, emphasizing that the decision was made in consultation with the medical staff to avoid unnecessary risks.
In conclusion, the absence of Lionel Messi from the pre-season friendly in Hong Kong stirred disappointment among fans, leading to calls for explanations from the organizers and potential financial repercussions. Despite the disappointment, Inter Miami secured a victory, and the decision to sideline Messi was attributed to medical considerations to ensure the players' safety.