The 23-year-old was diagnosed with pelvic cancer in March 2011 after undergoing a routine check-up for a back injury and was immediately forced to call a halt to his playing career, having first felt some discomfort in the pelvic area on the eve of a Second Division match against Las Palmas.
The following day the club called a Press conference at the Benito Villamarin where assembled media were informed Roque had cancer and would be commencing treatment immediately. Accompanied by then President Rafael Gordillo, Betis’ chief medical officer Tomas Calero and Head Coach Pepe Mel, the player acknowledged a long battle lay ahead.
They have found a tumour but the doctors are optimistic,” said a tearful Roque. Mel maintained that: “it was Miki who calmed us down and encouraged all of us when he told us in the dressing room yesterday.”
There followed an enormous outpouring of support for the Catalonia-born player, with Betis fans helping to fund his treatment at the Instituto Dexeus de Barcelona with the sale of wristbands bearing the player’s name and No 26 squad number. His friend, Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, even gave him the use of his girlfriend’s house in the Catalan capital while he was continuing his treatment.
However, in February 2012 he was secretly readmitted to hospital before finally succumbing to his illness on June 24, with current Betis President Miguel Guillen calling him an ‘example to everybody’ and insisting that Los Beticos will leave no stone unturned in their efforts to keep his memory alive. Betis boss Mel, who was also in charge when Roque made his debut, paid his own personal tribute.
“Miki, you epitomised the values I want for Betis – enthusiasm, desire and the commitment to achieve both,” he said. “On every Sunday next season my first memories will always be of you.”
Another person who enjoyed a close relationship with the player was Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets, who took time out from his preparations with Spain for their Euro 2012 semi-final with Portugal on Wednesday to write a heartfelt farewell letter to his friend via the Spanish Football Federation’s official website.
“After learning of the tragic death of a colleague I would like to give all my support and strength to Miki Roque’s family. He was a great person, a great sportsman and an example to everyone. But above all he was a great companion with whom I shared many moments I will never forget.
“After being in a state of shock and realising how unfair life is, right now I have only one thought and that is to do everything possible to dedicate the victory we are fighting for here to him. RIP Miki.”
In his playing career Roque was primarily a central defender but could also operate as a defensive midfielder, beginning his professional life at the age of 16 when Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez snapped him up from his local side UE Lleida. Having appeared in both legs of the 2006 FA Youth Cup final victory over Manchester City, he made his one and only first-team appearance for the Merseysiders when coming on as a substitute for fellow Spaniard Xabi Alonso in a 3-2 Champions League loss against Galatasaray.
During his time at Anfield he was loaned out to Oldham Athletic, Xerez and Cartagena before being released in June 2009, after which he returned to Spain to join Betis B, stepping up to the senior squad the following season and making his debut in October 2010 and helping Betis to promotion.
A Liverpool statement read: “Liverpool Football Club was today saddened to hear the news that former player Miki Roque has lost his battle with cancer aged 23. Everyone at Liverpool Football Club would like to send their thoughts to Miki's family at this sad time.”
Shortly after learning of the sad news of his death, both Betis and Sevilla fans began to go to the Benito Villamarin to pay their own personal tributes, laying flowers, photos, candles, shirts and scarves on a makeshift altar before a massive planned tribute at the ground at 8pm on Monday night.
Roque’s funeral will take place at the Santa Maria de Valldeflors Church in his home town of Tremp on Tuesday and will be attended by family, friends and numerous figures from the football world.