Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has said that gay players are facing a barrier preventing them from coming out.
The retired football chief, who managed Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Barcelona during his time in the sport, told Dutch news outlet Gaykrant that he believes there are gay players, “but not many” – but admitted across his career no gay player ever personally confided in him.
He said: “In general, this is not discussed in the football world… not a single player in my career has said: ‘I am gay’. Not one. I have often thought and suspected it among players. But if someone doesn’t tell me by themselves, I don’t want to burden him with it.”
The manger continued: “I really don’t think a player being gay would get in the way. They could be themselves. I am 100 per cent convinced of that. If they are crazy about the game and can [form bonds] with heterosexual men, then there is no problem.
“I’ve always noticed — and that may sound crazy — that it’s usually the more creative players who are gay. And those kind of players are very valuable in football.”
It’s usually the more creative players who are gay.
Asked what advice he would give a gay player thinking of coming out, van Gaal continued: “I would warn him that you have to have a lot of courage and strength to do that, because the football world and the angry outside world seem to find orientation a difficult problem.
“But it is always much better to come out, because you have to stay as close to yourself as possible.”
However, van Gaal said he suspects “it will take even longer than everyone thinks” for a footballer to come out.
There are still no openly gay footballers in the top tiers of the sport.
Since the late Justin Fashanu became the first major league to come out as gay to a torrent of abuse, very few players have followed in his footsteps.
Former German national player Thomas Hitzlsperger, who came out in 2014 after his retirement from the sport, remains one of the only top-tier players to have opened up about their sexuality. Hitzlsperger is currently a manager for Bundesliga team VfB Stuttgart.
American player Robbie Rodgers, who came out as gay in 2013, also only did so after stepping back from top-tier football.
Amal Fashanu, the niece of Justin Fashanu and a prominent campaigner against homophobia in the sport, claimed earlier this year that she has provided support to seven players who are in the closet.
She said: “For a long time the game has been ignoring the issue, but at long last this appears to be changing. The [UK Professional Footballers’ Association] has contacted me and made it clear they want to help address the issue.
“They are worried about any player who is suffering in silence. They want to do all they can to make sure any player who wants to make that step is supported.”
“No one wants to be the first,” she said previously. “In their minds these guys are trapped, ashamed. They think society won’t accept it so instead they live their lives in secret.
“It’s sad that this has to happen. But they would be a trailblazer.”
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