Lionel Messi Feb 7, 2024; Tokyo, Japan; Inter Miami CF fans hold up a jersey of forward Lionel Messi (10) before the preseason friendly game against Vissel Kobe at Japan National Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Naoki Nishimura-USA TODAY Sports

Inter Miami’s recent friendly in Hong Kong continues to draw mixed reactions.

While the team secured a victory against the Hong Kong XI on Feb. 4 before a packed crowd of 38,000, the absence of star player Lionel Messi left many fans feeling deflated despite the high ticket prices. The issue remains a point of discussion days later.

Disappointment hung heavy in Hong Kong as Messi watched the match from the sidelines due to an adductor injury. Undeterred by his physical absence, Messi addressed fans from Tokyo, expressing his deep regret and a heartfelt desire to return and play in Hong Kong soon.

Even with Messi offering his own disappointment, his no-show in Hong Kong sparked outrage, with the government publicly voicing its “extreme disappointment” and demanding answers from event organizers. The controversy escalated further when Messi appeared on the pitch in Japan days later, leaving many in Hong Kong feeling disregarded and fueling accusations of disrespect.

In response to concerns, Miami sent a nearly 500-word statement to the South China Morning Post, emphasizing the common occurrence of sports injuries during preseason tours, reiterating that Messi’s absence was due to this reality. Furthermore, echoing Messi’s own statement, they expressed a wish to return to Hong Kong contingent upon the fans’ receptiveness to welcoming the club back.

Max Bretos, play-by-play announcer for MLS broadcasts on Apple TV, acknowledged the fan disappointment on his The Soccer OG with Max Bretos podcast but challenged the intensity of the reaction and Miami’s need to respond. He questioned potential underlying motives, suggesting fans might be better served to focus on other exciting soccer tournaments instead of fixating on a preseason tour.

Bretos countered criticism from outlets like The Guardian, which accused Inter Miami of overhyping their preseason tour. He argued that marketing efforts aiming to sell tickets are standard practice in any business.

“The public should know better for these games,” he said. “Seeing a player play in front of you is promised to no one. So, why are we treating the fans like they deserve something here? If you are going to take to risk of buying those tickets for a game that you know damn well, anything could go haywire, especially when you’re dealing with someone who’s 36. That’s on you.

“The Hong Kong government is trying to hold MLS and/or Inter Miami feet over the fire because Messi did not play against Hong Kong. And then played a little against Vissel Kobe. Inter Miami does not have to show their injury report. If Lionel Messi couldn’t play against Hong Kong, he couldn’t play. That’s final. Tough toodles.”

Bretos expressed frustration with the situation, highlighting that similar scenarios occur frequently across various sporting events. He questioned why Inter Miami seemed to be the sole target of criticism for a common occurrence. Bretos further stoked the controversy urging Hong Kong to move on from the situation.

“Hong Kong, get lost. That’s it. You don’t want it? You don’t have it, you got a training with Messi, you got to see Messi,” said Bretos. “If he came on for 20 minutes, what difference would that make to you?

“All this is fair play from Inter Miami. They don’t owe an explanation to anybody. If they’re going to go on tour, no matter how they market it, give me a break. If you’re a patron and you go there, you know the risk.”

Whether Bretos’ opinion resonates or not, Inter Miami’s visit to Hong Kong has ignited a complex debate around fan expectations, team communication and the realities of preseason tours. As the discussion continues, it remains to be seen if Miami and Hong Kong can find a path toward reconciliation.

Taking initial steps to address fan concerns, the Hong Kong organizer, according to The Miami Herald, has offered partial compensation to those dissatisfied with Messi’s absence in the Inter Miami game.

[World Soccer Talk, The Soccer OG with Max Bretos]

About Sam Neumann

Since the beginning of 2023, Sam has been a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. A 2021 graduate of Temple University, Sam is a Charlotte native, who currently calls Greenville, South Carolina his home. He also has a love/hate relationship with the New York Mets and Jets.