Thomas Hitzlsperger has described his experience of coming out as gay and the positive impact doing so had on his life in an exclusive interview for the Official Everton Podcast.
The former Germany international midfielder opened up publicly about his sexuality in 2014, six months after leaving Everton and calling time on a career that saw him lift the Bundesliga title with VfB Stuttgart as well as play in England, Italy and on 52 occasions for his country.
He remains the most high-profile footballer to be openly gay.
"My life was great as a football player and has improved afterwards because there's been such a positive response [to coming out]," Hitzlsperger tells the podcast. "You'd be amazed how well life can change in a good direction and that's my experience and I try to concentrate on that and say it was so much better than a lot of people anticipated. And that's why it was the right thing to do.
"I kept it to myself, I lived my life the way I wanted to live and at Everton I tried to focus on playing football.
"But, when I left Everton, I thought, 'if I don't speak up, maybe nobody will', and that's why six months later I did come out publicly."
In a fascinating chat ahead of National Coming Out Day this Sunday (11 October), Hitzlsperger, now the CEO of Stuttgart, reveals the advice he would give gay footballers considering coming out, explains why his exacting battles with Gareth Barry for a first-team place at Aston Villa led him to seek the England man out when they met on the international stage, and describes how he went from falling out of love with the game to taking a top boardroom job at one of Germany's most successful clubs.
He also details what it was like to realise his playing career was over at the age of just 31, why he believes more young English players should follow the example of Jonjoe Kenny and Jadon Sancho in moving to the Bundesliga, and why he still cites the "special" work of Everton in the Community as an example for other clubs to follow.
To learn more about the Official Everton Podcast, click here.