The coach of the Italian national football team has said that in “the current climate” it would be impossible for two of his players to be in a gay relationship.

Marcello Lippi told an internet TV station:

“Imagine how a homosexual couple in football would be perceived.

“Even if, socially, most people would support and understand such a situation, it would nonetheless become magnified and eventually would be viewed negatively.”

This is not the first time Mr Lippi has spoken out on gay issues.

In January he said he does not think there are any gay professional footballers, but a gay man would not be excluded from playing.

“If someone came to me and confessed they were gay, I would advise them to not let any of that affect them, just concentrate on their profession and feel free to do what they want in their private lives,” he said.

“I don’t think there are any gay players, or at least in 40 years of my career I have never met any.

“It could well be that there are a few with these tendencies, but they don’t go around telling people about it.

“Considering the way football players are, it really would be a complicated condition to deal with in the locker room.”

Last year an Italian third division player turned rent boy, identified only as Victory, claimed he is paid 1500 euros (£1300) for his services by Italy stars.

In an interview on TV station La 7 the man claimed:

“I have about 30 clients who are footballers and I would say that a dozen are Serie A and national team players – several times I have been asked to take part in group sex sessions.

“They all know I am a footballer as well but they like me because I am discreet.

“A lot of them are bisexual, they are married or have girlfriends. They have a respectable image but none of them will ever admit to being gay, not for the time being anyway.”

In October 2008 a British former professional football player told a forum on homophobia he knows of a dozen gay men at the top of the game.

Paul Elliott, who played for Celtic, Chelsea and Aston Villa during his 12 year career, was speaking at Homophobia: Football’s Final Taboo, hosted by the FA at their central London headquarters.

Mr Elliott, who now works as an adviser to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said gay players do not come out because they fear the reaction of fans.

Justin Fashanu was the only British professional footballer so far to confirm he was gay. He came out in 1990 and committed suicide in 1998.

In December a survey of 400 professional footballers in the Netherlands for magazine Voetbal International revealed that 60% think there is no place for a gay man in the game and 25% think homosexuality will always be taboo.

Sepp Blatter, President of the Federation of International Football, commented last year:

“There are gay footballers, but they don’t declare it because they think it will not be accepted in these macho organisations.”