Messi, who plays for Major League Soccer team Inter Miami, did not step onto the pitch to play against a Hong Kong XI on Sunday, causing outrage among fans. He has since said that he was kept off the field due to an injury but wanted to play.
“I couldn’t be in the Hong Kong game and it’s a shame because I always want to participate, I want to be there, especially when it’s about these types of games that we travel so far and that people are so excited to see our games,” Messi told reporters.
The 36-year-old’s huge popularity has had fans clamoring to watch Inter Miami’s games during the team’s preseason tour.
A sellout crowd of 40,000 attended the match in Hong Kong, but the occasion ended acrimoniously when fans booed, jeered and called for ticket refunds as Messi remained on the bench.
Even the Hong Kong government said it was “disappointed” that the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner wasn’t brought on during the match.
Miami manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino later explained that both Messi and former Barça teammate Luis Suárez had remained on the bench following advice from medical staff.
Inter Miami is now in Tokyo for the next leg of a preseason tour and will face Japanese side Vissel Kobe on Wednesday.
Messi added that he could understand why people were upset that he had not participated in the match, but expressed hope that Miami could play in Hong Kong again at some point.
When asked if he would be playing in the match against Vissel Kobe, the forward said, “If I’m honest, I still don’t know if I can or not, but I feel much better and I really want to be able to do it.”
CNN’s Andrew McNicol contributed reporting.