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12:34pm 13/02/2024
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The Messi mess and lessons for international matches
By:China Daily ANN
Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi arrives at the Hong Kong International Airport for the soccer club’s first international tour in Hong Kong. CHINA DAILY

HONG KONG: The greater the expectations, the greater the disappointment.

Inter Miami played an exhibition match against a local Hong Kong team on Feb 4.

But by the time the final whistle was blown, the 40,000 spectators at the sold-out stadium, along with sponsors, including the Hong Kong government, were full of anger and disappointment at Lionel Messi as the Argentine soccer player considered by many to be the greatest of all time stayed on the bench for the whole match.

Michel Lamunière, the chairman and CEO of the event organizer Tatler Asia, held a news conference on Feb 5 to explain the details of the incident and announced the decision to withdraw the application for a government subsidy of HK$16 million (RM9.8 million).

Despite the cut in the event’s funding due to the organizers’ failure to fulfill the contractual requirement of Messi playing for a minimum of 45 minutes, for the fans who purchased tickets at high prices to see Messi, this move was far from satisfactory.

Fans wanted to see their idol, Messi, perform on the field.

Moreover, the government’s move to slash the funding did not compensate those who had bought the tickets at the regular price, let alone those who had purchased them from scalpers.

The disappointment of the fans, especially those who had traveled to Hong Kong for the game, proved difficult to appease.

The reason this entire incident garnered such high social attention was solely due to one person, the Argentine soccer legend, Messi.

The government spared no expense in inviting a US professional soccer club with no standing in the world soccer arena to Hong Kong.

Tickets were quickly sold out, and scalped tickets were even inflated to exorbitant prices, all in the hope of catching a glimpse of the eight-time FIFA World Player of the Year and the hero of the 2022 World Cup.

However, the greatest risk of placing such high hopes on one individual is that if any unforeseen circumstances arise, it would lead to disappointment and result in a disastrous event, akin to “putting all your eggs in one basket.”

In other words, the only way to avoid creating a public relations nightmare due to the absence of individual soccer stars is to refrain from inviting teams that rely solely on individual stars.

Looking globally, only a few teams with strong overall strength, such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Arsenal, Manchester City, AC Milan, etc., meet these criteria.

Just imagine if one of their key players were absent from a match, because of the presence of other equally formidable stars, the disappointment among fans would be significantly reduced.

Speaking of soccer, as China still lags behind the international standard in soccer, the sports sector has long arranged matches between local and foreign teams or with foreign players in the name of enhancing local soccer standards.

However, improving soccer prowess requires different support systems, such as professional training systems, a large number of standard fields for training and matches, a sound youth training ladder, and so on.

These cannot be achieved in just a 90-minute match.

Furthermore, due to the vast difference in strength between local players and visiting teams, matches often become one-sided, affecting the entertainment value.

If the invited teams lack sufficient renown, it may even lead to poor ticket sales, running counter to the government’s intention of hosting large-scale sports events to give back to the fans.

Hopefully, the Hong Kong government and the organizers have learned many lessons from this incident.

This should also be an opportunity to reflect on how to better organize international invitation matches.

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