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Thomas Hitzlsperger gay: Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski, Joey Barton and Gary Lineker offer their support

Podolski said the outing is an 'important sign of our time'

The Arsenal and Germany forward Lukas Podolski has gone public in his support for former international colleague Thomas Hitzlsperger, who has come out as homosexual, saying that his outing is an "important sign of our time".

England great Gary Lineker also offered kind words for the former Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton player, while Queens Park Rangers midfielder Joey Barton praised Hitzlsperger's courage, but said it was a shame he had to announce it after he ended his playing career.

Hitzlsperger, who retired in September having made 52 appearances for Germany, is only the fourth professional footballer to come out as gay after Justin Fashanu, America's Robbie Rogers, and Anton Hysen, son of former Liverpool winger Glenn Hysen.

"Brave and right decision. Respect, Thomas Hitzlsperger," Poldolski tweeted today. "His outing is a important sign in our time."

Lineker added his congratulations to the 31-year-old, who made 117 appearances in the Premier League between 2001 and 2013 and remains one of four German players who have played for three different teams in the English top flight - along with Dietmar Hamann, Robert Huth and Christian Ziege.

VIDEO: Thomas Hitzlsperger hopes to encourage others...

"Congratulations to Thomas Hitzlsperger on bravely being the first player to have played in the Premier League to 'come out'," Lineker wrote.

Barton, while pleased of the decision that Hitzlsperger made, was angry that he only felt comfortable to go public after retiring, just like the former Leeds United winger Rogers. Rogers, however, has since cancelled his retirement and now plays for Major League Soccer side Los Angeles Galaxy.

"Thomas Hitzlsperger has shown a lot of courage today. Sad times when people have to wait till they retire from their chosen profession," Barton tweeted.

"Before they feel other people will judge them solely on who the human being is. Shame on all of us as a society."