FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi evidently won’t be playing in China this month after all.
Inter Miami announced Wednesday that its planned trip to China for a pair of exhibition matches has been called off. The team announced the trip last month, with a pair of games originally scheduled for Nov. 5 and Nov. 8.
It would have been at least the eighth time that Messi — the World Cup champion for Argentina and now an eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, after receiving the annual award yet again earlier this week — played in China, and the total attendance for the two planned matches could have exceeded 100,000.
Inter Miami said the reason was “unforeseen circumstances.” The tour promoter, NSN, said the decision to cancel was out of respect to Chinese officials following the death last week of the country’s former second-ranking leader, Li Keqiang. He was China’s top economic official for a decade.
TyC Sports, a network in Argentina, reported Monday that the trip was called off. The team did not confirm that decision until Wednesday.
“The tour promoter, NSN, has informed Inter Miami CF of the cancellation of its China Tour due to unforeseen circumstances in China,” read Inter Miami’s statement. “Inter Miami’s ambition remains to expand its global reach by playing in front of incredible fans from across the globe; the Club will continue to explore future opportunities with NSN to achieve this goal.”
There were clear logistical challenges with the trip, including a botched ticket launch in China and reports that one of the matches would be canceled. It would have been Inter Miami’s first international tour and could have served as a warm-up of sorts before Messi is expected to play in two World Cup qualifying matches for Argentina later this month.
Messi returned to the U.S. early Tuesday after winning the Ballon d’Or and was with Inter Miami for a training session that morning. The team did not make the Major League Soccer playoffs and now has no games officially scheduled, though the ongoing training suggests Inter Miami may try to play an exhibition in the coming weeks.
The team — which won Leagues Cup this year for its first-ever trophy, doing so shortly after Messi’s ballyhooed signing with the club — hasn’t publicly revealed plans for any other international tours in the future, but others are expected given Messi’s enormous global popularity. He remains under contract to Inter Miami for the 2024 and 2025 MLS seasons, making between $50 million and $60 million annually.
Messi played in China as recently as this past June, shortly after he stunned much of the soccer world by announcing that he would sign with Inter Miami. He scored barely one minute into a match for Argentina against Australia in Beijing on June 15.
Messi also won Olympic gold in China, helping Argentina win the title at the Beijing Games in 2008. He and Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham have enormous followings in Asia, along with several endorsement deals in the region.
AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer