The only problem? Messi didn’t leave the bench.
The match, organized by Tatler XFest with the backing of the Hong Kong government, had been advertised as a unique opportunity for local fans to see the soccer legend in action. When it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, fans began chanting, “Refund! Refund!” from the stands. Messi’s team, Inter Miami, and the club’s co-ower David Beckham were booed off the field. Local Hong Kong fans had paid up to $624 for the exhibition tickets.
INTER MIAMI BOOED OFF THE FIELD IN CHINA 😡
The mood in Hong Kong turned sour after Messi didn't play in the #InterMiamiCF friendly. 40,000 fans chanted "Refund refund refund" and "Where is Messi?" (who sat on the bench). Beckham also booed post-match.pic.twitter.com/gjnbEfSRUr
— World Soccer Talk (@worldsoccertalk) February 4, 2024
Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong’s secretary for culture, sports and tourism, said at a news conference that the government’s contract with Tatler XFest required that Messi play for at least 45 minutes of game time, unless there were health or fitness concerns.
Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino explained that Messi had been benched due to the risk of injuries, a decision made hours before the match.
“We understand a lot of fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent Leo and Luis on for at least a while but the risk was too big,” Martino said, naming Messi and another marquee player, Luis Suarez.
But the Hong Kong government, which had provided more than $2 million in public funds for the event, made other suggestions to the club once they realized Messi wasn’t going in during the match.
“We therefore immediately request them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with fans or receiving the trophy,” Yeung said. “Unfortunately, this did not work out.”
Hong Kong fans left the stadium with virtually no interaction from the soccer star, the main reason many of them had bought tickets in the first place.
🚨 A Chinese man flykicks Messi's head off a poster. Don't believe what the media say, Messi is NOT wanted in Hong Kong! pic.twitter.com/bKDHRWgY9C
— LLF (@laligafrauds) February 5, 2024
The match was part of Inter Miami’s international tour of pre-season friendlies that rely on the stardom of its marquee players, chief among them Messi, purporting to give fans around the world a chance to see their icons in action.
Messi was certainly visible from the bench where he sat in Hong Kong stadium. But for action? You’d be better off staying home.