【明報專訊】Top footballer Lionel Messi sat out the exhibition match between Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami. He made no remarks after the match, nor did he receive the trophy. The stadium rang with shouts of ''refund'' from fans.
When Inter Miami arrived in Hong Kong last Friday, reporters asked whether Messi would miss the game due to injury. The team's head coach Gerardo Martino said that Messi's condition still needed to be evaluated. On Saturday, the team had a training session at Hong Kong Stadium. Though Messi did not join the practice match, he did some jogging and passes with his teammates. Club co-owner David Beckham also spoke at the stadium, saying that Inter Miami was a special club with special players, and tomorrow's game would be very special.
Yesterday (5 February), the organiser said that in the official team sheet submitted and signed off by the team coach before Sunday's game, Messi had been included in the substitute list as being fit to play. The organiser announced the visiting team's lineup accordingly. Every statement made by the club and the organiser prior to the game had fueled the public's reasonable expectations for Messi's participation. Such high expectations ultimately morphed into deep disappointment.
No doubt it is not uncommon for players to miss a game due to injury. However, exhibition games are never highly competitive. Had Messi come off the bench and merely ''sauntered'' around the pitch for just a few minutes, fans able to get a glimpse of the panache of the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) of football would have been satisfied. In this friendly match between Inter Miami and the Hong Kong team, tickets were sold for as high as $4,880. Throughout its promotional campaign, the organiser marketed the match as one featuring Messi. More than 38,000 fans were gathered at the stadium because of him. Had it not been for Messi, not so many people might have spent thousands of dollars to scramble for a ticket.
The public has certainly been left dumbfounded by Messi's no-show. Equally perplexing was his failure to address the fans himself. According to the Hong Kong government, it immediately contacted the organiser when it noticed Messi still not playing at the start of the second half, requesting the Inter Miami management to arrange for Messi to enter the pitch as soon as possible. After this failed, it demanded that the organiser take ''remedial measures'', including asking whether it could arrange for Messi to explain to the fans in person or receive the trophy on behalf of the team. That did not happen either. Messi is a worldly footballer and has endorsed many products in the past. It is hard to imagine that he would have no understanding of public relations.
In this visit to Hong Kong, Messi did not play in the friendly match, did not receive the trophy and did not speak publicly before and after the match, which is quite unusual in itself. Did he say no to offering an explanation in person, or did he simply not know that the Hong Kong government had made such a request? At the moment there is only one side of the story. Furthermore, at one point the Hong Kong government had put forward other demands, for example, requesting Messi and other players to attend a Victoria Harbour event. It is noteworthy whether this had led to pecuniary disagreements.
Messi's no-show has caught the city in a whirlpool of emotions. The organiser has a responsibility to address questions from the public in detail instead of simply reading out a statement and not taking any questions as it did yesterday. As for the government, it has a duty to explain clearly whether it has played the role of gatekeeper adequately in the matter. It must not let the incident end up an unsolved mystery.
明報社評 2024.02.06：美斯缺陣滿城風雨 追究責任弄清疑團
■/ Glossary 生字 /
sit out：to not take part in a dance, game or other activity
panache/pəˈnæʃ/：the quality of being able to do things in a confident and elegant way that other people find attractive
dumbfounded /dʌmˈfaʊndɪd/：unable to speak because of surprise