Football legend Iker Casillas, one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of the sport, has announced he is gay.

“Espero que me respeten: soy gay,” the retired Spaniard, 41, wrote on Twitter on Sunday night, Australian time. Translation: “I hope you respect me: I am gay.”

Less than an hour after the post was published, it had already racked up 38,000 retweets and more than 82,000 likes.

Carles Puyol, another legendary Spanish footballer who was a teammate of Casillas for many years, was among those swiftly reacting to the news.

“Es el momento de contar lo nuestro, Iker,” Puyol wrote, including a love heart emoji. “It’s the moment to tell our story.”

Casillas split from his wife, sports journalist Sara Carbonero, last year, having been married to her for half a decade. They have two children together.

“Today our love as a couple takes different but not distant paths, since we’ll continue together in the marvellous task of continuing to be devoted parents, as we have been up until now,” he said in a statement at the time.

“This is a well considered decision which we have taken through mutual agreement.”

He said both he and Carbonero felt “enormously proud” of their family and had “shared a love that has filled us with happiness during all our years together”.

“The respect, affection and friendship will remain forever,” Casillas said.

“Our priority is, through affection and compromise, to share the wellbeing and education of our children and protect them so they grow in a stable and healthy environment.

“With these words we ask you to respect our privacy in this moment of change.”

Carbonero posted the same statement on her own social media channels.

Late last month, Casillas was forced to deny speculation that he was dating Colombian singer Shakira, who had recently split from another Spanish footballer, Gerard Pique.

“Touch your nose. OMG,” he wrote on Instagram, having shared screenshots of articles spreading the rumour.

Shakira and Pique broke up in June, ending a 12-year relationship. Like Casillas and Carbonero, they have two children together.

Casillas is arguably the highest profile footballer ever to be openly gay. His list of achievements include one World Cup, two Euro championships, five La Liga titles and three Champions League titles.

He made more than 500 appearances with Real Madrid between 1999 and 2015 before moving to the Portuguese club Porto, playing a further 116 games there. He also played 167 times for the Spanish national team.

He announced his retirement from professional football in August of 2020.

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