Bellerin unsettled by 'homophobic insults'

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The full-back says he has been the target of abuse ranging from criticism of his performances to comments made about his hair style.

The Spain international has described the insults as "very dangerous" and says it has affected him mentally.

"Some of it can get very abusive. Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium, too," he told The Times.

"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 and 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.

"You act a little differently and 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."

Bellerin deleted Twitter from his phone for a while, such was the level of online abuse he was receiving whenever he was judged to have played poorly.

"It can be a blessing and a curse. When I first came into the ranks at Arsenal, the expectations were very low so people were often impressed when I played well," the 23-year-old said.

"But then, when I played badly, the stick got crazy. The worst was a year and a half ago. A lot of people say nice things but it is natural to focus on the bad.

"For a while, I deleted the apps. Later, I decided to go back on. Twitter is a great source of information. Every day I am learning to deal with abuse in a better way."

The former Barcelona youngster believes such abuse shows why it would be so difficult for any player to be openly gay.

 "It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football," he said. "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."