Forward 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 insignificant tournament football when Iceland knocked out of Euro 2016 – a nation ranked 34th globally 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 has since finished fourth at the 2018 World Cup – their first semi-final appearance at the tournament for 28 years – and reached the final of Euro 2020 earlier this year. Southgate’s exciting young side will head to Qatar next year among the favorites to win the 2022 World Cup.

Sterling told BBC Radio 4’s Today program: “After the Euros in France, the team came out of that with the terrible press.“It was a challenging period over the next couple of years, and the belief wasn’t there within the team.“When Gareth came in, he tried to make us understand that yes, that’s what the scarring is, but how will we 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.

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.

“This had to be a team that was united on how we saw it,” Southgate said. “The lads didn’t realize 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.”