Arsenal defender Hector Bellerin has admitted that he has had to grow 'thick skin' in order to cope with abuse.
The Spaniard was considered to be the best full-back in the Premier League after his breakout season under Arsene Wenger, but he quickly became the victim of fan abuse when his form dipped.
Bellerin's passions extend past football and he's made no secret of his love for fashion and design. And his style of dress hasn't always gone down well with fans, neither have some of his hairstyle choices.
Having sat down for an interview with the Times, the 23-year-old opened up on the abuse he's received over the past two seasons and admitted that it has induced a measure of self-doubt.
“Some of it can get very abusive,” he 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 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,” Bellerín says. “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.”
The defender also revealed that he was even forced off social media as a result of the abuse he was made to suffer and called on FIFA to do more to protect players and expose football's dirty side.
“When I first came into the ranks at Arsenal, the expectations were very low so people were often impressed when I played well. But then, when I played badly, the stick got crazy," he explained.
"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.
“Rhian Brewster [of Liverpool] is a young player who gave a brilliant interview about the abuse he has suffered. For me, the likes of FIFA have to be tougher. They don’t do enough. Football should bring people together. The problems shouldn’t be hidden away.”