In what must be tragic news for football fans, former Liverpool defender Miki Roque has died of cancer, according to a statement released on the Web site of his last club, Real Betis. The Seville-based club confirmed the player had been battling pelvic cancer since March 2011 and underwent surgery to remove the tumour last year.

Roque, who was only 23 years old, started his senior career at Anfield in 2005 after he was signed by countryman Rafael Benitez from local side UE Lleida at the age of 17. He made an appearance in a Champions League match against Galatasaray in December 2006 and was also part of Liverpool's 2006 FA Youth Cup winning team. Roque had loan spells with Oldham Athletic, Xerex and Cartagena, before returning to his homeland to join Betis in 2009.

"Liverpool Football Club was today saddened to hear 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,'' reads a statement on the club's web site.

Roque, who could operate as a centre-back or a holding midfielder, enjoyed a breakthrough into Betis' starting line-up in 2010. However his career suffered a devastating blow when he was diagnosed with cancer less than a year later.

"The Real Betis player Miquel Roque Farrero, Miki Roque, had died today at the Instituto Dexeus de Barcelona hospital at the age of 23. Miki Roque had been battling pelvic cancer since March 2011, a struggle that he fought with fortitude and determination. Real Betis send their deepest condolences to the Roque family,'' reads a statement by the Spanish club.

Roque has represented Spain at the U19 level. His death comes barely two years after Austrian striker Besian Idrizaj, another former Liverpool player, died at the age of 22, after suffering a heart attack in his sleep. The Betis defender is the third Spanish professional footballer to lose his life in such circumstances, over the past few years. Sevilla wing-back Antonio Puerta died in 2007, three days after collapsing on the field due to a cardiac arrest while former Espanyol captain Dani Jarque died in 2009, also due to a heart attack.