Hitzlsperger hopes his announcement will help other players reveal they’re gay

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On Wednesday former German international midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger became the most high-profile former soccer player to announce he is gay following his retirement from the sport.

Hitzlsperger, 31, retired from playing last season after multiple injuries meant he had to cut his promising career short. Stints in the Premier League with Aston Villa, Everton and West Ham saw him become a fans favorite as he was nicknamed ‘the hammer’ for his ridiculously hard shot with his left foot. Now he has decided to follow the LA Galaxy’s Robbie Rogers, who announced he was gay but then left English soccer and moved to MLS.

During his playing days Hitzlsperger represented his national side 52 times, and after revealing his sexual orientation earlier this week, he hopes players currently playing at the top level will speak out and become the first to reveal their gay while still playing professional soccer in Europe.

“Hopefully talking about it the way I am now, it encourages some others because they see that they can still be professional football players, play at the highest level, and be gay,” Hitzlsperger said. “It is not a contradiction as I proved. Therefore, hopefully it gives some encouragement to young players.”

But, given the huge level of interest from the media, fans and just about everyone out there, is it actually possibly for a current player to reveal his homosexuality and still concentrate on being a professional?

“I certainly think that it is possible and it will happen one day,” Hitzlsperger said. “In my case it just took longer to realize that I’m gay and t admit it to myself. But I think young players these days, when they’re sure about their feelings, they can talk about it.”

(MORE: Former German national teamer, Aston Villa star announces he’s gay)

On a personal level, Hitzlsperger was with his former female partner for eight years before breaking off their engagement and solely focusing on soccer.

“It took me a long time to realize how I felt,” Hitzsperger said. “When I started playing as a professional footballer I was in a relationship with a woman. we stayed together for eight years but after that time when we broke up. I focused more on football because this was what I always wanted to do, be a professional football player. Only the last few years I’ve realized that I do want to live with a man, that I am gay.”

source: Reuters
Hitzlsperger believes current PL stars shouldn’t feel afraid to reveal their homosexuality.

But what about the conception that soccer fans across Europe are against homosexual soccer players and all of the stereotypes that exist? Hitzlsperger thinks he did a lot with his playing style to help get ride of those negative connotations.

“I’ve heard that in professional football you have to be strong, powerful and they think being gay means you aren’t that. You’re soft, don’t like to tackle and that you’re very weak,” Hitzlsperger said. “But then I look at myself and people nicknamed me ‘the hammer’ early on because I have a powerful left foot and I’m a strong guy. So that’s a contradiction again. Why do people think that if you’re gay that you’re also weak? I think I proved the opposite”

In the future Hitzlsperger hopes the visibility of gay players will be embraced by fans across European soccer. But right now, it’s like they don’t even exist in many leagues and cultures.

“It’s difficult for me to say if there’s an anti-gay atmosphere because so far there isn’t an openly gay footballer in a European league,” Hitzlsperger said. “It’s probably easier if you compare it to racism. In racism you know who people dislike when they shout things at them, it’s clearly visible. But gay players, so far, don’t exist officially.”

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.