Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi sits on the bench during the friendly football between a Hong Kong XI and Inter Miami AFP / Peter PARKS

The controversy surrounding Argentine superstar Lionel Messi and his current club, Inter Miami CF continues to unfold several days after he did not play in an international friendly in Hong Kong. After making an appearance in a similar event in Japan on Wednesday, the footballer is now being accused of having "political motives".

Chinese fans were already angry after Messi sat on the bench throughout the entire match between Inter Miami and a Hong Kong XI selection over the weekend, citing an injury. They were left even more enraged when just days later, Messi managed to play in Japan against Vissel Kobe.

The Argentine did not start the match, but he managed to put in over 30 minutes on the pitch after he was brought in as a substitute in the 60th minute. He replaced David Ruiz, and stayed on until the end of regulation time, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Messi but did not take to the spot during the penalty shoot-out, which went 4-3 in favour of the Japanese side.

It may be remembered that Inter Miami declared that Messi was unfit to play even for just as few minutes in Hong Kong on Sunday. Inter Miami manager Gerardo Martino said that their medical team made an assessment and ruled Messi out because it would be too much of a risk to have him play. The fact that he was able to play for half an hour just three days later has sparked conspiracy theories.

Hong Kong based media outlet Global Times has accused Messi of "embarrassing" the Chinese Special Administrative Region and that the snub had political motives. Others even doubted if Messi was even actually injured.

To make matters worse, fellow Inter Miami star Luis Suarez did not play in Hong Kong either due to a knee injury. However, he started the game in Japan and played a total of 75 minutes before being subbed off.

Needless to say, the appearance of the two former FC Barcelona stars on the pitch in Tokyo added insult to injury to over 38,000 fans who turned up to see them at the Hong Kong Stadium. Throughout the second half of that match, fans were already chanting "we want Messi", which fell on deaf ears.

Co-owner David Beckham tried to make a speech at the end of the match to thank the spectators, but he was met with boos the likes of which he has not experienced since his days with the Three Lions.

Fans were understandably upset after having paid up to HK$4,880 (£494; $624) to watch the game and to see Messi. However, tickets sold for these friendly matches only really guarantee a match between the two sides, and not necessarily which players will be available. It is still unclear if any refunds will be issued to ticket buyers.

While the organisers may not have any further liability to the audience, Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary for culture, sports and tourism, said government officials were repeatedly told that Messi would play. They apparently only found out that he won't take to the pitch due to an injury with just 10 minutes left to play.

Even then, Hong Kong officials asked if Messi could possibly come in just for a few minutes to give fans a glimpse, but that request was denied due to potential risks. That sounds a bit less plausible now after he was able to play for half an hour in Japan.

Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip has called for Messi to be declared a "persona non-grata" due to the "deliberate and calculated snub". She said: "Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting."

The organiser for the Hong Kong match, Tatler Asia, said that Messi had been contracted to play, unless injured. In light of the controversy, the company has withdrawn its application for a HK$16m government grant for staging the sporting event.