Former Germany international Thomas Hitzlsperger, a Premier League player with Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, has become the most prominent name in his sport to reveal he is gay.
The 31-year-old, who was forced into retirement at the end of last season due to injury, gave a wide-ranging interview with German newspaper Die Zeit during which he announced his homosexuality.
Hitzlsperger says the decision to come out has been 'a long and difficult process' as there is a view among many that being homosexual does not fit with the ideals related to professional sport.
"Struggle, passion and will to win are inextricably linked in sport," he explained. "This doesn't fit the cliche people have that homosexuals are soft."
Hitzlsperger spent over five years in English football, while he also played in Italy for a year, and claims to have never felt ashamed of being gay due to changing attitudes towards homosexuality across Europe.
"In England, Italy and Germany being a homosexual is no big thing, at least not in the dressing room," he added. "I have never been ashamed for the fact that I am like I am."
He won 52 caps for his country, the last of which came in the summer of 2010, and featured for Germany in the 2006 World Cup on home soil and the European Championships two years later.
Hitzlsperger's announcement sees him become the first player to have performed in the English top-flight to come out.
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