The diminutive Argentina forward had been due to take part in a match at Hackney Marshes, home to hundreds of amateur football sides.
Yet as he arrived by helicopter Messi was mobbed by excited fans - who had been tipped off about the event via Facebook - prompting security guards to pull the plug on the star's scheduled appearance as a substitute.
Messi did appear at a subsequent football boot giveaway near Brick Lane, but his scheduled appearance at a five-a-side match in Stepney Green was cancelled - and when representatives of sponsors Adidas told the crowd that Messi would not be showing up, the scene turned violent.
Fans threw bottles, cans and cups on to the caged five-a-side pitch, forcing police to call in reinforcements to disperse the assembled throng.
One of the event stewards admitted that the PR stunt had been a disaster.
"It was a bit of a shambles actually," he told Metro. "I don't think Adidas thought it through... it was pandemonium."
An Adidas spokesperson apologised for the disastrous publicity stunt, saying: "We had planned for Messi to play in a five-a-side game in Tower Hamlets.
"Unfortunately, time and safety pressures made this impossible to complete. Adidas would like to apologise to all those loyal fans who turned out but did not get to see Messi."