Arsenal's Hector Bellerin has opened up on the abuse he has received from fans for daring to be different, noting that he has been called 'lesbian' for growing his hair long.
Bellerin, who is well known as one of the quickest right-backs in the game, is open about his love of fashion and often posts photos of himself donning colourful outfits on social media.
But while the 23-year-old appears to be enjoying an interesting lifestyle off the pitch, that side of his life has resulted in abuse from fans on it, as the Barcelona native told The Times.
“It can get very abusive,” Bellerin said. “Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium too. People have called me 'lesbian' for growing my hair.
“There are other kinds of homophobic insults. I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now again you get a bit of self-doubt.
“The problem is that people have an idea of what a footballer should look like, how they should behave, what they should talk about.
“If you act a little differently you become a target. There is pressure to conform. This is very dangerous. In life, you should be allowed to express yourself. People are happier like this.”
Given the nature of a large number of the insults hurled at the Spain international, Bellerin was asked to give his take on why there are not more openly gay footballers in the modern world.
“It's impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football. Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player (Gareth Thomas), people respected the situation.
“The fans respected his decision. In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.
“People should be able to express themselves without feeling threatened. That is true in football, but also in life.
“I don't know why people are so angry when someone wants to be a bit different. So long as nobody is being harmed, what's the problem?”