BERLIN - Thomas Hitzlsperger has become the first German international footballer to "come out" as gay after revealing his homosexuality in the magazine Die Zeit.
In an interview to be published in Thursday's edition, Hitzlsperger, 31, revealed: "I am declaring my homosexuality because I want the question of homosexuality in the world of professional sport to be out in the open."
But he admitted that reaching the agonising decision to come out had been "a long and difficult process".
Hitzlsperger, capped 52 times by Germany between 2004 and 2010, added: "It is only in recent years I have come to realise I preferred living with a man."
The midfield veteran, who hung up his boots at the end of last season, plied his trade in Germany, England and Italy.
Born in Munich, he came through the ranks at Bayern before signing his first professional contract with English Premier League club Aston Villa in 2000.
He moved to VfB Stuttgart in his native Germany in 2005, had a brief spell with Lazio in 2010, then moved to England with West Ham and rounded off his career with sojourns at Wolfsburg and Everton, where he retired last year.