Former Aston Villa and West Ham midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger has revealed he is gay.

He is the highest-profile footballer to 'come out' and he follows in the footsteps of the American Robbie Rogers, who revealed his sexuality last year.

Hitzlsperger won 52 caps for Germany and finished his career at Stuttgart last year, retiring because of injury.

In an interview with Germany's Time magazine, he said: "It has been a long and difficult process...only in recent years has it dawned on me that I would prefer to live with another man."

Hitzlsperger, 31, says he does not know any other players in Germany who are gay.

"I'm coming out about my homosexuality because I want to move the discussion about homosexuality among professional sportspeople forwards," Hitzlsperger said.

"I've never been ashamed of the way I am," he added, although he conceded it has not always been easy to live with some of the comments dished out on the subject.

"Just picture 20 men sat around a table together drinking - you've just got to let the majority be, just as long as the jokes are halfway funny and the talk about homosexuality doesn't get too insulting.

"In England, Germany or Italy, homosexuality is not taken seriously as an issue, at least not in the dressing room."