Thomas Hitzlsperger became the first German player to come out as gay on January 8, 2014, shortly after retiring from professional soccer. But in a recent interview with Bild, the former Aston Villa midfielder confessed that he wanted to declare his homosexuality earlier, when he was still active.

In fact, the 41-year-old revealed he wanted to come out in 2012, when he was still playing for Wolfsburg. But his own lawyer stopped him from doing so. “My lawyer advised me against coming out; ‘Under no circumstances should you talk about it!’,” he said, as translated by BeSoccer.

Hitzlsperger, who also played for Lazio and West Ham before injuries caught up to him at Everton, scored six goals in 52 caps for Germany, being part of the country’s run to the Euro 2008 final.

He had a long-term relationship with a woman until June 2007, when he broke up shortly before their wedding. Hitzlsperger said he already wanted to declare his sexuality a couple of years later, but it was too hard. Not everyone around me thought it was OK. I couldn’t repress my feelings any more,” he said.

Hitzlsperger believes there’s still work to do in the sport

Even though society has changed and today there’s more acceptance than decades ago, sexual orientation is still a taboo in professional sports, including soccer. Hitzlsperger knows what is like to feel repressed, and believes active players are still suffering this.

We talk about it, but the players don’t identify themselves as such. It’s a taboo on the pitch and in the dressing room, also because there are no known active homosexual footballers in Germany,” he said.

Some active players have been breaking down the walls lately, with Josh Cavallo coming out in 2021 before Jakub Jankto did the same in February 2023.

When it comes to the main players there is a problem. There are only seven known gay professionals in the whole business. It’s always said that when will the first active player in one of the five big leagues come out with this? There is already one with Jakub Jankto,” Hitzlsperger said about the Czech international. He went public once and hasn’t had to say anything more about it since. That’s when you realize that it doesn’t have to be a big deal”.