Inspecting the Portugal squad at training the day before their opening UEFA Nations League finals match, a semi-final against outsiders Switzerland, you could see at least three generations of talent, past; present and future.The last of those to emerge from the dressing room was the first to emerge on the world stage. Captain, top scorer, national icon and the man Portugal’s hopes have been pinned on for a decade and a half, Cristiano Ronaldo.Slipping out onto the Estadio do Bessa field before him, the home of Boavista in Porto’s western district, was Joao Felix. The Benfica prospect looks, in the flesh, even younger than he does on the television. His boyish face frames a mouth full of braces, and belies the preternatural talent contained in his legs and in his head. 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He leans forward to chest a ball and controls so delicately that you feel if someone threw an egg at him he’d trap it the same way and keep its shell intact.The Portugal players all come out of the tunnel in dribs and drabs and take their place in the warm-up; a couple of kick-ups and then a volley across an ever-expanding group. They take it in turns to batter the ball at Bernardo, in the hope that he’ll drop it and they’ll have something to giggle about. Not a chance.They drill it hard, they drill it high, they drill it at his chest and at his shins and every time they do so he brings it under his command. You are left with an impression of a man who treats the football like a well-trained dog.Later when the rondo exercises start, Joao Felix will aim a playful kick at his elder team-mate, whose unquenchable competitive desire took him into a sliding tackle at the feet of the 19-year-old.Portugal are as they ever were, well-stocked with players of both established and emerging class. But Ronaldo remains the only one of this trio with a medal to his name at international level.This is a Portugal group now in the final stages of moving on from Euro 2016 success. Ronaldo, of course, remains irreproachable. But other attacking players likes Ricardo Quaresma and Nani have taken their leave.Bernardo was still at Monaco in 2016 but a hamstring injury in one of the last games of the season condemned him to a summer away from the national team, delaying his breakout to a wider audience. He was beginning to make a name for himself in the colours of the Seleccao but Portugal not only survived but thrived without him.Now, three years on and with a World Cup under his belt, Bernardo is ready. His form in the intervening years has been imperious and he can be regarded as one of the very best playmakers in the world.”Of course, the season with City gives me the confidence and inspiration to try to do my best for the national team,” the 25-year-old said on Tuesday. “That’s what I’m going to try to do, finish the season in the best way, with a title for our national team.”He has reeled off three consecutive league titles – one for Monaco and two under Pep Guardiola at City – and added the FA Cup and the Carabao Cup to his collection this season for good measure. The honour of Player of the Season was also bestowed upon Bernardo, no mean feat in a team which swept all before them on the domestic front.“Maybe this season he’s been [number] one or two of the best players in the Premier League,” Guardiola said in February. “Portugal is fortunate to have him. I love him, it’s simple like that.”Bernardo was the man for the big occasion, contributing a man of the match performance in the January clash against Liverpool which ultimately played a huge part in deciding the fate of the Premier League title. He scored in the vital derby win against Manchester United at Old Trafford as the season drew in.His effect has been such that Guardiola is already describing him as a more important player for his country than Ronaldo. “He can do absolutely everything,” said Pep. “He’s one of the most talented players I’ve ever seen in my career as a manager or a player.”The difference is that Ronaldo has delivered that elusive trophy for the national team, while Bernardo has had to bide his time. But the Nations League gives him the chance to show his country that there will be life beyond CR7 as he moves into his peak years. And Joao Felix, wherever he goes, won’t be far behind.
United States forward Josh Sargent admitted he was disappointed after being left off the roster for the Concacaf Gold Cup this summer, but is starting to “see the positives” as he uses it to fuel his drive toward the first-team at Werder Bremen. The 19-year-old was excluded from Gregg Berhalter’s squad ahead of the tournament despite making his Bundesliga breakthrough last season, and conceded his omission came as something of a blow as he believes it could have been a valuable learning experience. However, after watching his international counterparts reach the final before falling to Mexico, Sargent now admits he has reversed his discontent, and is now using it to boost his first-team chances ahead of the new domestic campaign in Germany. Article continues below Editors’ Picks Emery out of jail – for now – as brilliant Pepe papers over Arsenal’s cracks What is Manchester United’s ownership situation and how would Kevin Glazer’s sale of shares affect the club? Ox-rated! Dream night in Genk for Liverpool ace after injury nightmare Messi a man for all Champions League seasons – but will this really be Barcelona’s? “It was disappointing at first not to be at the Gold Cup,” he told reporters after his club’s pre-season match against Cologne.“I could have learned a lot there and needed a while to get my ahead around not being called up.“Now I see the positives. I am able to take full part in Werder’s pre-season preparations. Obviously the starting line-up is my goal.”Those positives included netting the only goal of the game against Cologne in Sunday’s pre-season friendly, with the Missouri-born striker producing a confident finish past Timo Horn.And such confidence did not go unnoticed on the Werder bench with coach Florian Kohfeldt saying post-match:“Josh is unbelievably clinical when he gets in the opposition box.“He’s been working really hard and is in fantastic shape, which is great for him and us, but he’s not without competition in attack.”Sargent’s aforementioned competition at Die Werderaneris is both varied and challenging, with the likes of Milot Rashica, Yuya Osako, Claudio Pizarro and Niclas Fullkrug vying for a place in Kohfeldt’s starting XI.But after making his debut last December, and finishing the 2018-19 season with two goals in 10 league appearances, the teen is hoping there’ll be more of the same over the coming months.“I’m happy with how things have been going and with my goal (against Cologne),” he said. “We’ve been working hard on things in training, and I’m possibly in the form of my life!“It’s only been a journey in Germany so far for me. Hopefully it can continue. I want to help us at least qualify for the Europa League.”
ANN ARBOR, MI – SEPTEMBER 26: The Michigan Wolverines Cheerleaders support their team against the Brigham Young Cougars at Michigan Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Wolverines defeated the Cougars 31-0. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)Michigan blew out Penn State on Saturday, ending any hopes the Nittany Lions had of contending in the Big Ten East this year. It was an embarrassing a loss as the program has suffered during the James Franklin era.The Wolverines, who prevailed 42-7, ran for 259 yards – needing just 17 pass attempts from quarterback Shea Patterson to get the victory. The Nittany Lions, meanwhile, couldn’t get anything going through the air or on the ground. They were out-gained in terms of yardage, 403-186.During the contest, Michigan fans got a little cocky. They trolled Penn State fans in the stands once the game was in hand.For those unaware, Penn State plays “Zombie Nation” by Kernkraft 400 at home games, chanting “We Are Penn State!” throughout. Michigan fans had a new take.They chanted “We Own Penn State” instead. Pretty clever.The Big House crowd “We own Penn State” pic.twitter.com/ll7WVjYaGt— David Noe (@DavidRNoe) November 4, 2018Does Michigan own Penn State? Maybe. The Wolverines led the all-time series 14-8 and have won four of the last five. But last year’s contest was a blowout in the other direction – 42-13. It’s up for interpretation.Either way, Michigan now looks like the favorite to win the Big Ten. The Ohio State game will be fascinating, as always.
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – DECEMBER 26: Head coach P. J. Fleck of the Minnesota Golden Gophers look on while playing the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets during the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field on December 26, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Minnesota won the game 34-10. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)Earlier: Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck is known for his positive attitude and messaging, but recent comments Fleck made about recruiting have drawn some negative reaction.During a Coaches Caravan event this week, Fleck spoke about his policy with accepting verbal commitments. If a player wants to commit to the Golden Gophers, Fleck doesn’t want him visiting elsewhere.Basically, you’re either all-in or not at all.“I have a rule: You commit to me, you can’t go see another place,” Fleck said, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. “Not because I’m insecure. But if you want to be committed, you’re going to be committed. Too many people teach young people to be committed but also one foot in and one foot out. … You’ve got to be all in.”Or as Fleck termed it: “We have a problem in our society. We don’t have a problem in our program.”Now, Fleck isn’t the only coach to have this rule, though it occasionally backfires when you give kids an ultimatum like that. However, he’s taking some heat for these remarks, as there are those pointing out the coach for being hypocritical.Now do coaches decommitting https://t.co/5U8zNHSbNR— Bud Elliott (@BudElliott3) May 23, 2019Just like when he signed that six-year extension to commit to Western Michigan… https://t.co/d7LOdtZQkm— Zac Jackson (@AkronJackson) May 23, 2019P.J. Fleck — a man who left Western Michigan for Minnesota two years after signing a six-year contract extension and who flipped six WMU commits on his first day at Minnesota — thinks society has a commitment problem. https://t.co/rt8IYbLnFb pic.twitter.com/AZcY7piPA6— Yahoo Sports College Football (@YahooSportsCFB) May 23, 2019Not to mention that Fleck is notorious for pressuring guys to commit as early as possible.— Barton Simmons (@bartonsimmons) May 23, 2019PJ Fleck has coached at 6 places in 13 years.— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) May 23, 2019Even now, Fleck’s name often comes up as a potential candidate for vacancies around the country.Wonder if his comments will be thrown back in his face the next time he takes a new job.Update: For a look at an alternate take on Fleck’s comments, Ryan Burns, who covers Minnesota for 247Sports, has chimed in.(2/x) Even when Fleck says if you’re committed, “you can’t go see another place”, even that’s not entirely true. Minnesota had multiple commits from the 2019 class take other visits while being committed, and they still ended up becoming #Gophers.— Ryan Burns (@RyanBurnsMN) May 23, 2019(4/x) It’s a calculated risk the recruit decides to make, as they (the recruit) have to do what’s best for them, as do the college coaches. It’s not personal, it’s just business.— Ryan Burns (@RyanBurnsMN) May 23, 2019Fleck is entering his third season with the Golden Gophers.
COLUMBUS, OH – APRIL 18: A general view of Ohio Stadium as more than 99,000 fans packed in to watch the annual Ohio State Spring Game on April 18, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)A former Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback has been denied immediate eligibility at his new program.Former top recruit Matt Baldwin took his talents to TCU this offseason.After his transfer, Baldwin applied for a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately for the Horned Frogs. However, TCU fans received tough news when it was revealed Baldwin will not be eligible for the upcoming season.According to a report from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, Baldwin will have to look forward to the 2020 season. From the report:The NCAA has denied TCU quarterback Matthew Baldwin’s waiver for immediate eligibility, according to sources.TCU is expected to file an appeal on the decision on behalf of the Ohio State transfer this week.Baldwin completed 20 of 36 passes for 246 yards passing with two touchdowns and two interceptions during Ohio State’s spring game. After failing to crack the starting rotation, Baldwin took his talents to the Big 12.It’s a tough pill to swallow for the former top recruit. However, Baldwin underwent surgery earlier this summer and is expected to miss camp before the 2019 season kicks off.TCU has a solid quarterback room without Baldwin, who could face an uphill battle to start for the Horned Frogs.Stay tuned for the latest.