Lionel Messi might be the world's greatest soccer player but his reputation in the United States could take a dive after the cancellation of a high-profile charity match scheduled for Wednesday.
American fans have had only sporadic opportunities to see the Barcelona wizard in the flesh and the match – billed as "Messi and Friends vs. The Rest of the World" and due to take place at the Los Angeles Coliseum – was keenly anticipated.
That is, until a clearly frustrated press release was sent out, little more than 24 hours before the scheduled kickoff, announcing the game would not take place as Messi was refusing to take part.
"After hours of trying to convince Lionel Messi's management team to fulfill their contractual agreement and come to Los Angeles, it is clear they have no respect for these fans and this market," said a statement from Todd Graham, CEO of El Padrino, one of the primary sponsors of the event.
The match was advertised as featuring a string of world-class players, including Spanish World Cup winners Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets on Messi's team, and in-form Polish striker Robert Lewandowski, Argentina's Sergio Aguero and AC Milan star Kevin Prince Boateng on the other.
As of Tuesday night, the event website carried no mention of the cancellation, though tickets were no longer available on the Ticketmaster website.
"In all the years I've been doing live events, I have never encountered a situation like this," said Ralina Shaw, vice president of public relations for El Padrino. "It's unfortunate because the only losers in this scenario are the fans that were looking forward to the game, and the City of Los Angeles."
More information may leak out over the next few days but organizers are adamant that their part of the deal was met and that Messi's late withdrawal came as a shock. Messi has been the most dominant player in soccer for the past four years but is preparing to enter one of the biggest seasons of his career.
His club team Barcelona is desperate to erase the memories of its embarrassing seven-goal deficit to Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals, while the 26-year-old is under pressure to deliver for his national team Argentina in the World Cup a year from now.
The player enjoys worldwide popularity but has recently been in the headlines for the wrong reasons, after his tax affairs came under investigation from the Spanish revenue services.
Messi has appeared in the U.S. before, with Barcelona occasionally visiting as part of its preseason preparations, and Argentina played the U.S. national team in a friendly at Giants Stadium in 2011.
Tickets for Messi and Friends were selling for up to $300.
Calls and an email sent to Messi's management team were not immediately returned on Tuesday night.
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