Messi says he ‘feels much better’ and hopeful of playing in Tokyo after PR disaster in Hong Kong


TOKYO (AP) — Look for Lionel Messi to play on Wednesday in Tokyo where Inter Miami meets Japanese club Vissel Kobe in a friendly.

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 an entire match against a selection of players from the Hong Kong league, angering thousands of fans who demanded refunds.

Teammate Luis Suarez — another big name at Miami — also remained on the bench.

Messi showed up at a five-star Tokyo hotel on Tuesday for his second news conference since joining Miami last June 7, and his first since Aug. 17. 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 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 trained later Tuesday in suburban Tokyo and looked fit, running drills and moving with ease at a practice facility run by the Japan Football Association. He did not speak afterward with reporters.

Messi tried to explain to Hong Kong fans that 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 was 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 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. 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 its veteran stars Messi and Suarez. In five games from El Salvador, to Dallas, to Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, Inter Miami has won only once and been outscored 12-7.

The Asian tour wraps up on Wednesday in Tokyo’s National Stadium.

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 next 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.”


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