Will Maradona & Messi combine or combust?
Love him or loathe him, Diego Armando Maradona will be one of the major stories of the World Cup in South Africa this summer.
Twenty-four years after inspiring Argentina to victory in Mexico with an individual brilliance seldom witnessed, El Diego - now his beloved country's team coach - once again has the hopes of a nation resting on his shoulders.
The difference this time is he can share the burden.
As Maradona barks out his instructions from the touchline, the on-field focus will be on an entirely different Argentine, albeit similarly short in stature, fleet of foot and with the ability to change a game in an instant: Lionel Messi.
For the Albiceleste, World Cup 2010 is destined to become the tale of Maradona and Messi. But whether the two protagonists in this story are compatible or combustible is not an easy question to answer.
I learned much about both men on a recent holiday to Argentina, especially how they are perceived in their homeland.
Having been quoted the astonishing sum of 100,000 Euros for the privilege of speaking to Mr Maradona for only half an hour (and only on the subject of the national team, at that), I turned to Argentine football expert Marcela Mora y Araujo, who translated Maradona's autobiography 'El Diego' into English - for answers.
"It's a big mystery how well Maradona and Messi get on, because I don't think they know each other particularly well," Mora y Araujo told me. "It's a big question mark, but I'm not sure whether it really matters how much they end up liking each other.
"What matters most for Argentina is how the team is formed and how Messi fits into it. What Maradona must focus on is the team-building element. Without a gameplan, without every player understanding what their role is - including Messi - there is little chance of doing well."
The subject of Argentina's World Cup bid throws up more questions than answers, especially after their well-documented struggle to qualify.
Can Maradona get the best out of Messi? Does he expect too much from the man he has called the heir to his throne? Can they both handle the weight of expectation? Not only in South America but all around the world, the dynamic between these two intriguing personalities is a topic of colossal interest.
After all, this is not simply the story of the manager and his magician. Since taking over as Argentina coach in 2008, Maradona has endured a troubled reign, only just leading his disjointed, inconsistent side to South Africa. Once a deity in his homeland, the hero of Mexico '86 is now constantly mocked for his team selections and temper tantrums.
"Maradona has reincarnated himself as manager of the national team and left himself exposed in a job every man in the street knows they can do better," added Mora y Araujo. "He is no longer untouchable, a man who can do no wrong. Argentina has a lot of people who love their football, and no-one is going to be duped.
"He is not the Maradona of 1986, he is a different Maradona now. No-one can take away what he did as a player, but this version stands a very real risk of failing and there has been a lot of criticism directed towards him. Some of the insults are shocking - no-one is biting their tongue simply because of who he is."
The vitriol Maradona has been exposed to has caused the iconic 49-year-old, not for the first time in his controversial life, to lash out. In November, Fifa banned him from football for two months for a lewd outburst following a 1-0 win in Argentina's final World Cup qualifier in Uruguay - the match that sealed their place in South Africa.
Still, former Argentina striker Gabriel Batistuta thinks his old team-mate can cope with the hostility he may face over the next few weeks. "Maradona knows how to handle this situation, knows how to deal with pressure better than anyone else," Batistuta told BBC Sport. "Since he's been five-years-old people have asked for things from him, so it won't be a problem.
"Argentina can win the World Cup with any coach based on the quality of its players, but Maradona's support can be key, bearing in mind all the implications he has for the Argentina national team. His experience in the world of football means he knows how to handle this type of situation."
Mora y Araujo disagrees with Batistuta by suggesting Maradona - who has had two heart attacks and has struggled in the past with drug addiction and weight gain - is not the man Messi should turn to for advice. "The pressure on Messi is overwhelming, the media interest in him comparable only with what Maradona generated in his career," she said. "But he's always had that pressure, so I don't think he's particularly frail.
"With Maradona, you have to remember he's an unwell person. He could help a lot of players achieve things, but it's random as to whether he will. Maradona doesn't have an amazing coping mechanism that he can pass on. If anything, I'd say Messi should be advising Maradona as he seems to cope with it all far better."
One thing is certain, Maradona will not treat Messi in the manner he is used to at Barcelona. The Catalan club's coach, Pep Guardiola, handles his star man with kid gloves, once claiming Messi could "play poorly once, twice, three times - as often as he pleases".
Maradona, however, seems intent on cranking up the pressure on Messi, challenging him to deal with the already gruelling demands of worldwide expectation. "Messi is better than I was at the 1986 World Cup," roared Maradona soon after the squad got together. "Messi needs to be the leader of this team, the icing on the cake," he added shortly after. "We need him to do this."
Messi admits he found Maradona's appointment difficult at the beginning. "At first, it was strange to have him as our coach," he said. "The truth is he was a little imposing. But we started getting used to him and he's been our coach for a while, so now it's normal."
For a country whose collective hopes and dreams appear so reliant on one man, I was surprised to see little positive coverage of Messi from the Argentine press in March, with the media frustrated by his inability to reproduce his club form for his country. Mora y Araujo believes they "question the Argentine-ness" of a man who has lived in Barcelona since he was 13 and is sometimes unfairly dubbed the 'Catalan'. But that view is not shared by the fans who will cheer Messi on from the bars of Buenos Aires and beyond.
Messi shirts are ubiquitous and the people are rightly proud to call the reigning Fifa World Player of the Year one of their own. Their eulogising may not have reached Maradona proportions yet, but then not many sportsmen get a church named after them. An Argentine I met did not have a picture of his wife and children in his wallet but one of Maradona.
And not once was there ever the remotest suggestion that the locals question Messi's commitment in the blue and white. After all, this is the guy who won a World Youth Cup in 2005, Olympic Gold in 2008 and got to the final of the Copa America in 2007, all while representing Argentina.
The people also remember how Messi took on the hierarchy at Barca - the club he owes his career to - two years ago in order to play at the Olympics for his country. "Messi is extraordinarily popular in Argentina, he is hailed as a hero," says Mora y Araujo.
Messi himself is adamant: "It's very special for me to wear the shirt of the national team. I think it's a beautiful responsibility to be playing with this shirt, especially with such a football crazy country watching everything we do."
For Messi, the tournament provides his very own shot at immortality. Despite scoring 47 goals for Barcelona last season, he admits "you only become a legend if you win the World Cup". The 22-year-old will need to close the chasm between his displays for Barca and those in an Argentine shirt if he is to join his boss in the pantheon of greats.
It is not just Messi's status that is at risk in South Africa (as his then Barcelona team-mate Ronaldinho's was in 2006), it is Maradona's legacy. If Maradona the coach emulates Maradona the player and wins the World Cup he will have achieved something arguably as unexpected as what occurred in 1986. But the risks of abject failure will be at the forefront of his mind.
Messi is almost certain to have another crack at winning a World Cup, but he is unlikely to ever go into a major tournament again in such scintillating, all-conquering form. After scoring four goals for Barca against Arsenal in April, Maradona, who made the 'Hand of God' famous, said Messi was "playing a kickabout with Jesus".
Once more, Argentine prayers are with Maradona - the man they call "the chosen one". But I will leave the final word to Leonardo, my guide on a tour from Salta to Cafayate in the north-west of the country, and a man who had tears in his eyes when he tried to express how much Maradona meant to him and his people.
"Diego Maradona is not Argentine, Diego Maradona is Argentina," he said. "Maradona means so much to all of us, he is not so much a person as a way of life. Diego is our God and he will not fail us."
World Cup team guide - Argentina (international version)
Argentina's World Cup qualification highlights (international version)
Watch Maradona's 'hand of God' beat England (UK only)
Watch Argentina win the 1986 World Cup final (UK only)