Lionel Messi is playing in a match in Tokyo on the heels of a public-relations disaster that was his no-show in Hong Kong last Sunday. The 36-year-old Argentine was a spectator for Inter Miami’s 4-1 victory over a selection of players from Hong Kong’s top league, angering thousands of fans who demanded refunds for the tickets they bought to see Messi and teammate Luis Suarez on the field.
After spending Tuesday’s training session on the outskirts of Tokyo doing stretches while protecting a hip adductor injury, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner joined his teammates for a friendly against J-League side Vissel Kobe at DRV PNK Stadium on Wednesday. Messi came on in the 60th minute and ran through a few more light workouts as Inter Miami completed their global preseason tour with the game.
Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino is expected to hold Messi back again, as he did for the first half of a 4-1 loss against Saudi Arabian powerhouse Al Nassr in his debut with the club on January 29. The defending MLS champions will play their final match of the trip in Miami on February 15 against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s boyhood club in Argentina.
Messi and the aging Suarez have hardly been a factor in Inter’s unimpressive start to the 2024 season. Both are recovering from injuries, and the team is far from proving it can compete for the major titles in its inaugural campaign.
Despite that, the matches in El Salvador, Dallas, Saudi Arabia, and Hong Kong were all billed as showcases for Messi, who has a contract to play at the new MLS franchise until the end of 2027. But the tour has been plagued by bad PR and results that could have been much better. Messi has had a few public speaking engagements this week to try to calm the storm. He has vowed to return to Hong Kong for a “good match.” He also plans to visit his hometown of Rosario in Argentina later this year. His father, who has Parkinson’s disease, lives there.