"The World Cup is a revolver to Lionel Messi's head," Jorge Sampaoli was quoted as saying earlier this week. "And if he doesn't win it, he is shot and killed."
The Argentina coach was exaggerating, of course. But not much. His remarks to Viva magazine, a Sunday supplement in Clarin, were metaphoric, but Messi has been the scapegoat for the Albiceleste before and failure to lift the game's greatest prize this summer will likely lead to more criticism.
Sampaoli is well aware that he too will be in the firing line if Argentina's players are not standing in Moscow with the trophy in their hands on July 15 – and it is up to him to work with Messi to ensure that the nation's fans go home happy this time.
That is easier said than done. Near misses in recent years have hurt and striker Sergio Aguero has said that it would be a failure if this great generation of players does not go on to lift a trophy together, thoughts echoed by many of his team-mates.
After losing out in the 2014 World Cup final to Germany, being beaten on penalties in the 2015 Copa America showpiece – by Sampaoli's Chile – and then going down again to their South American neighbours in the Copa America Centenario a year later, only the trophy will do this summer.
Argentina are not among the favourites, but with Messi there is always a chance and Sampaoli is well aware of that. On Tuesday, the Albiceleste boss welcomes his star man back from injury and he will hope to see some signs against an impressive Spain side that this team is on track for an assault on the World Cup.
Sampaoli spoke for 40 minutes in the pre-match press conference on Monday and, as expected, many of the questions surrounded the brilliant Barcelona forward, who has been passed fit to start at the Wanda Metropolitano.
How will he make it work? "Our possibility as a coach is to understand which link is the most important," he said. "From Messi, you can create many links. On the pitch, he makes the place his own. We have to interpret him and to develop him."
Sampaoli is keen to create the ideal environment for the Barca forward and he has studied the player's patterns and movements in constant trips to the Camp Nou in recent months. It is a puzzle he is desperate to solve.
"Leo has to play like he does for his club," he told Viva. And on Monday, he added: "We have to understand him. We have to provoke situations that allow him to be in an optimum state of comfort. We have to know how to accompany him. The dialogue is constant."
Whatever it takes. If making Messi more comfortable means leaving out a big name such as Paulo Dybala or Mauro Icardi (neither of whom were picked this time), Sampaoli is happy to oblige.
Tactically, he is giving the matter deep thought and after lengthy discussions with the five-time Ballon d'Or winner, he has devised a system he thinks can benefit Argentina – a 4-4-2 formation similar to the one utilised by Barcelona, with the 30-year-old playing behind a striker, with freedom to drop deep and create.
Against Spain, in Dybala's absence, he will be expected to link up with Ever Banega and Manuel Lanzini or Giovani Lo Celso in a central midfield axis similar to what he has been used to at the Catalan club over the years – something no previous Argentina coach has been able to effectively pull off.
Dropping Dybala may have been a controversial choice, yet picking a player who tries to occupy the same spaces as your team's finest footballer is definitely counter-productive and this project is unquestionably all about Messi.
Having missed the game against Italy on Friday, which Argentina won 2-0 without really impressing, Messi is available again for the match against Spain on Tuesday and Sampaoli will be relieved because after that, the Albiceleste have only one fixture remaining before the World Cup – away to Israel on June 9.
"It would be good if we could start to circulate around a player who can strengthen the rest," Sampaoli said on Monday with some understatement. "The methodology we are implementing is for the rest to activate situations that allow us to take advantage of Messi.
"Argentina need to understand the moments when to cause damage with Leo and find a defensive balance that allows us to sustain the attacks."
In theory, it all sounded good. But time is running out for Sampaoli to find the formula to take advantage of Messi's magic. And if he gets it wrong at the World Cup this summer, he too will be a loser in this game of Russian roulette.