THE term “football crazy” has never seemed so apt. Singapore football fans are seeing red and now demanding a refund for the messy way they’ve been taken for a ride for Tuesday’s Argentina-Singapore exhibition match — without world football icon Lionel Messi.
Messi’s definite decision not to play at the National Stadium has left hundreds of fans seeing red, fuming and feeling cheated with big holes in their pockets. Many have demanded that the organisers refund the tickets or even cancel the match, which was scheduled to mark the 125th anniversary of the FAS.
“The FAS has taken us for a biggest ride by deliberately promoting Lionel Messi for the big match. We feel cheated when the biggest striker in the world is now not coming,” said junior college student Andrew Vellasamy, 19, who claims he paid a “bomb” to get eight grandstand tickets for his family.
Tickets to the Singapore vs Argentina match, touted by the organisers as the “Match of the Year”, are priced at the highest-ever in recent years for a friendly international match at S$40, S$78, S$138 and S$188.
Hailed as one of the best players of his generation, the prolific 29-year-old Barcelona striker, a five-time Fifa Ballon d’Or (World Player of the Year) award winner, was wildly promoted as one of the mega-star attractions of the match, as early as three months ago.
Now fans ponder if this was a reckless trick by the FAS and organisers, knowing very well that Singaporeans cannot afford such triple-figure ticket prices without throwing the lucrative carrot of Messi.
The promotional media buzz, for ticket-sales over the social media, says “Argentina will field a full strength team, set to include their talismanic forward Lionel Messi and star players such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, in what is being billed the ‘Match of the Year’.
Organised by FAS and international promoter UNICESS, Singapore vs Argentina at the National Stadium will allow ardent football fans and sport-loving families to witness some of the best players of our generation play against the Singapore Lions”.
But Argentinian newspaper Clarin distinctly reported that Messi would be missing the fixture to prepare for his wedding to girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo on June 30. The report added that Manchester City defender Nicolas Otamendi will also miss the match against Singapore to prepare for his own wedding on June 16.
Schoolteacher Jeremy Lai, 35, called it a “biggest shame for the FAS” to deliberately flaunt Messi’s name just to get the ticket-sales going. He adds: “This is like a football crime. We cannot trust the FAS anymore if they don’t give the fans a proper refund. This is like cheating in broad daylight, using Lionel Messi’s name to fool the fans.”
Architect Raymond Teo, 36, who spent S$276 on two Category 2 tickets, moaned: “This is blatant cheating. It’s a very big disappointment. If I knew Messi is not coming, I would probably have bought cheaper tickets. I feel football-robbed!”
Banker Mohammed Razali, 44, hailed it as the “very messy saga” when the FAS probably knew in advance of Messi’s non-availability but “blatantly kept the news away from the fans just to boost ticket sales”.
He says: “If the FAS really has a conscience, they will call off the match because the ticket prices were close to what we pay for world-class concerts. I’ve never ever paid hundreds of dollars for four tickets for my family but I thought for Messi, it may be worth it. Now I feel completely let-down.”
Housewife Faridah Abdullah, 38, from Bedok South, who bought six tickets for her family, was close to tears. She says: “I was pissed to say the least when I found out the truth of Messi. We were crying out to see him and I feel the FAS owe us a refund for this sloppy mistake. We will not believe the FAS again if they don’t do the right thing to return the big-priced ticket-money.”
COACH SAYS THE TRUTH
New Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli during a media conference in Melbourne on Thursday, where Argentina are currently in for their friendly against Brazil on Friday, confirmed that Messi and Otamendi were never ever going to come to Singapore.
“They (Otamendi and Messi) have been allowed to travel after the game, because they are getting married. This was a decision made a long time ago because of their family commitments and they will leave after the game with Brazil,” Sampaoli was quoted by Reuters news agency.
The match organisers – international sport and entertainment promoter UNICESS and the FAS – were left embarrassed and claim that a “full-strength Argentinian squad, including Lionel Messi, Angel Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain” had been selected to take part in the National Stadium fixture.
Retired coach R. Velu, 56, slammed the organisers for not diligently updating the fans. He says: “This is total dishonest advertsement and we demand a refund. Sampaoli said as much in his press conference that Messi’s absence was planned very much earlier.”
A FAS council member, who asked not to be named as he feels ashamed by the Messi boo-boo, said that the “organisers will have nowhere to hide their faces as this is the biggest ticket-sales embarrassment in Singapore history”.
He says: “We are left speechless as we were assured of a star-studded lineup for the 125th anniversary match. Now Messi’s absence cannot be explained, especially to the fans who have paid some of the highest ticket prices to see the world’s best player.”
In response to numerous media queries, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) and match promoter UNICESS said in a joint media statement that they are trying “to determine the authencity of the claims” made in the media reports with the Argentina Football Association (AFA).
“(We) are aware of the recent media stories around Lionel Messi and Nicolas Otamendi’s appearance in the Singapore vs Argentina football match on Tuesday, 13 June at the Singapore Sports Hub,” said the statement, which was issued by Roco Communications.
“We are currently working with the AFA to determine the authenticity of the claims made in these reports and will provide an update as soon as we are able.” – BY SURESH NAIR
- Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist with over three decades of football-writing experience