Look for Lionel Messi to play in Wednesday’s friendly in Tokyo with Inter Miami facing Japanese club Vissel Kobe.
And don’t look for another public-relations disaster as happened on Sunday when Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain sat on the bench for the entire match against a selection of players from the Hong Kong league, angering thousands of fans who demanded refunds.
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Teammate Luis Suarez — another big name on the club — also remained on the bench.
Messi, who has rarely spoken to the media in an open setting since moving in July to Inter Miami, showed up Tuesday at a news conference in a five-star Tokyo hotel. He sat alone on a stool on stage, wore a pink warm-up jacket and showed a bit of humility.
He was surely under pressure from local Japanese sponsors, including Vissel Kobe, where his former Barcelona teammate Andres Iniesta became a Japanese crowd favorite before leaving last year.
“The truth is that I feel very good compared to a few days ago,” Messi said, speaking in Spanish. “And depending on how that [training] goes. And if I’m honest, I still don’t know if I will be able to or not. But I feel much better and I really want to be able to do it.”
Messi tried to explain the situation to Hong Kong fans, saying it was impossible for him to play with a groin injury. Some suggested he could have simply trotted around for a few minutes, which might have satisfied fans in a game that is largely meaningless except for its promotional value.
“The truth is that it was bad luck that I couldn’t [play] on the day of the Hong Kong match,” Messi said, adding that the “discomfort continued and it was very difficult for me to play.”
“Unfortunately, in football, things can happen in any game, that we may have an injury,” he added. “It’s a shame because I always want to participate, I want to be there, and even more so when it comes to these games when we travel so far and people are so excited to see our matches.”
Inter Miami’s global tour has been disappointing as the club tries to build a brand using veteran players like Messi and Suarez. Through five games from El Salvador, to Dallas, Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, Inter Miami has won only once and has been outscored 12-7.
The Asian tour wraps up on Wednesday in Tokyo’s National Stadium, the $1.4 billion venue built for the Tokyo Olympics that were held in 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mark Conrad, who teaches law, ethics and sports business at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, reminded fans that a ticket is for a game and does not guarantee a player’s participation.
“While it may be true that many fans purchased tickets with the hope of seeing Messi, the ticket is to watch the match, not a specific player — unless there is a condition that says otherwise,” Conrad told The Associated Press.
“While it is likely true that the pricing and the interest was in large part due to Messi’s participation, his failure to play does not generally constitute a breach of contract.”
Messi said he hoped to visit Hong Kong again — and play this time.
“I hope we can return and we can play another game and I can be present,” he said. “As I do whenever I can. But the truth is that it is a shame that I was not able to participate.”