Argentina’s beleaguered manager was yesterday accused of asking Lionel Messi if he should send on Sergio Aguero in their do-or-die World Cup game with Nigeria.
Footage emerged of a brief exchange between a frantic Jorge Sampaoli and Messi during which he was said to have inquired: “Flea. What do I do? I put it to Kun?”
The alleged incident, compounded by pre-match talk of a mutiny in the Argentina camp, occurred after Messi walked straight past his manager when approaching the bench to talk to other members of his coaching staff while the score was 1-1.
Aguero ultimately was introduced with 10 minutes remaining, six minutes before Marcos Rojo scored a dramatic late winner that rescued his country from a humiliating group-stage exit.
In a fraught build-up to Tuesday’s game, the chief executive of the Argentinian Football Association (AFA), Claudio Tapia, was forced to deny Sampaoli was to be sacked following last week’s 3-0 thumping of Croatia.
😳😳Messi passes a message to an official on the bench. Coach Jorge Sampaoli asks Messi “Are you bringing on Kun?” pic.twitter.com/f6G8l0GCvW
— Damian (@FootballFact101) June 27, 2018
Argentina also held a press conference without their manager on Sunday following mounting speculation the likes of Messi and Javier Mascherano had lost faith in him.
Mascherano admitted senior players had gone to AFA officials on Friday night to discuss issues about tactics after Sampaoli’s switch to a three-man defence against Croatia backfired spectacularly.
“We’ll try to make it better and hope that he will be able to receive the ball a lot more.”
Messi responded by scoring his first goal of the World Cup – and one of the best of the tournament – against Nigeria.
At the final whistle, Messi and Sampaoli embraced amid wild celebrations in St Petersburg.
Sampaoli said afterwards: “The players played with their hearts. They are true rebels.”