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England team ‘has grown as one’ – Raheem Sterling hails Gareth Southgate impact

Dec 29, 2021 | 10:57:AM

Raheem Sterling has credited Gareth Southgate for uniting the England squad over the last five years.

The Three Lions suffered one of their darkest days in major tournament football when knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland – a nation ranked 34th in the world and with a population of just 330,000.

Roy Hodgson resigned in the wake of that humiliating defeat and former Middlesbrough boss Southgate stepped up from his England Under-21 role in September 2016 after Sam Allardyce’s 67-day reign.

England have since finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup – their first semi-final appearance at the tournament for 28 years – and the final of Euro 2020 earlier this year.

Southgate’s exciting young side will head to Qatar next year among the favourites to win the 2022 World Cup.

Sterling told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “After the Euros in France, the team came out of that with really bad press.

“It was a really difficult period over the next couple of years. The belief wasn’t there within the team.

Euro 2020 Package
Raheem Sterling celebrates scoring for England at Euro 2020, one of his three goals in the tournament (Mike Egerton/PA)

“When Gareth came in, he really tried to make us understand that yes, that’s what the scarring is, but how are we going to change it? The team has grown as one.

“We want to do things as a collective. The one thing about this team is, when you come in the building, we are so integrated.”

Sterling has won numerous trophies in six years at Manchester City, including three Premier League titles, one FA Cup and four League Cups.

But the 27-year-old forward, who starred at Euro 2020 and scored three goals in the competition, believes winning a major tournament with England would top that.

Christmas Package 2021
Gareth Southgate has guided England to the semi-final of the 2018 World Cup and the final of Euro 2020 (Mike Egerton/PA)

He said: “I don’t think you could beat that, for us as players.

“I think we have players at the right ages, challenging for the right things and have the mentality to be the best in their position.

“We have a wonderful manager here that tries to give us the environment to perform at the highest level.”

Southgate said the decision to take a knee before games to highlight racial injustice – despite some criticism – helped build unity within the England squad in the build-up to Euro 2020 and throughout the competition.

Poland v England – FIFA World Cup 2022 – European Qualifying – Group I – PGE Narodowy Stadium
England manager Gareth Southgate says taking a knee to highlight racial injustice has built unity within his squad (Rafal Oleksiewicz/PA)

“This had to be a team that were united on how we saw it,” Southgate said.

“The lads didn’t realise how powerful that would be, going into the tournament, and they wanted to be judged on the football.

“I wanted to represent the players in the best way I could.”