Marcus Rashford has aimed surprising criticism at Gareth Southgate’s predecessor Roy Hodgson, suggesting England’s poor performances under the former manager were down to a lack of dedication and quality in training.
Rashford, 25, won three caps under Hogdson and was part of the squad which crashed out of Euro 2016 with a humiliating last-16 defeat to Iceland.
The Manchester United forward was not named in the squad for Sam Allardyce’s one match as England manager but is currently at the Qatar World Cup in his third major tournament under Southgate.
Rashford has come off the bench in England’s opening two group games, scoring in the 6-2 win over Iran, and asked if he was ready to start against Wales on Tuesday, he said: "I think everyone is ready and raring to go.
"Training has been good for the lads that haven’t been getting as many minutes. But I feel like, for this squad, it has never really been an issue, especially since Gareth’s been managing.
"Maybe before it was a little bit of an issue in terms of quality of training and people’s dedication to training but since he’s been manager of England, it’s been good. It’s been intense, it’s been challenging and I feel like everyone, me included, is ready to do their bit when they come onto the pitch if they get an opportunity."
Rashford added: "Obviously I was only there for a short period of time before [Southgate] but the standard of training wasn’t as high.
"For players, it is black and white: if you are not training well, you can’t expect to play well, you can’t expect to go into games and just win because you are better players than the other team. You have to put the work in and earn the right to win football matches. For me it is two different sides of a coin, it is as simple as that.
"There’s obviously been a clear change and a clear improvement. We’ve obviously done much better in the major tournaments but even in the games that we’ve played throughout the year with England, we’ve played better, we’ve had better results.
"It is not often I come away with England and feel like we’re going to lose games. I think as a collective, we’re very strong. The togetherness is really high and it is a big feature that Gareth puts emphasis on. It is something we have worked on and it has improved as time has gone on.
"But like I said, the main reason why we are in the position we’re in is because we have good players who are willing to work for one another and leave it all out on the pitch. In the next game, we’ll definitely look to do that."
England Training Session for FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar | 26th November 2022
Southgate has transformed England’s fortunes and expectations by guiding them to the semi-final in Russia four years ago and coming agonisingly close to winning Euro 2020 last summer, when they lost to Italy in the final on penalties.
"I don’t think it takes a genius to see that we’ve improved since 2016," Rashford said. "For me, it feels like a completely different team.
"We’ve come on so much and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves along the way, so I feel that we’re a really strong team that has the capabilities to go on win against any team that we play against.
"We don’t fear anybody. We believe in our own qualities. We believe in how we can affect the outcomes of football games and we stick by each other in tough moments and in the good moments as well. So it’s up to us to go and prove that we have what it takes to win it, but do I believe that we do? Yes, 100 per cent.
"We’ve shown progression. I can obviously only speak on the time that I’ve been here. So from 2016 you look at that performance against Iceland and we got knocked out of the Euros and it’s a million miles off - you can’t even compare the two situations and for me, you can’t compare the feeling around the camp."
Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were all subjected to racist abuse after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 shootout against Italy and he said: "Listen, racism is not good to go through as an individual but it’s not good to see anyone go through it. It’s more just disappointment.
"You’re disappointed that people have views like that. And the main reason is that you don’t have those views about anyone else, regardless of their race or religion. It’s more the disappointment that people are thinking those things, rather than saying them.
"As an individual I’ve always been comfortable with and enjoy big moment so I’m hoping I get to take another penalty in the tournament. I’m looking forward to it."