Only a Game? - Carles Puyol - the real hero of Spain

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Even if Fernando Torres had scored a hat-trick in last night’s Euro 2012 final against Italy, his exploits would pale into insignificance when you consider that Barcelona defender Carle Puyol tried to make a difference to someone’s life.

Puyol will forever be one of my football heroes after I read that he paid all medical expenses for former Liverpool and Oldham Athletic player Miki Roque who lost his battle to pelvic cancer at the age of 23 on June 24, 2012.

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Because of injury Puyol, 34, was not named in Vicente Del Bosque’s 23 man squad that has reached the Euro 2012 final. But what Puyol tried to do off the field of play has been read about all over the world.

In March 2011, whilst undergoing a routine check-up on his back for his then club Real Betis, Miki Roque was given the awful news that he had pelvic cancer.

It was also at this time that Barcelona defender Eric Abidal announced to the world that he too had cancer. Abidal has since recovered but it was Roque’s news that made an even more pronounced impact on Puyol.

Puyol is from the town of La Pobla de Segur, three hours away from Barcelona. La Pobla de Segur is also the place where Roque’s mother is from. The relationship between the two men was born out of tragedy and although brief it is certainly one that will be treasured by the Barcelona captain.

For too long have we heard stories of footballers’ alleged racist slurs, extra-marital affairs and for too long have we witnessed their obsession with status, money and materialism. Be that as it may, football, like so many other things in life, has a way of offering hope.

Puyol’s decision to help his new friend with the medical costs is a story that should be celebrated. It’s a story that proves to everyone that not all footballers are self-obsessed egotists hell bent on earning enough money so that they can get their house painted with rare tiger blood or walls papered in the actual pages of the original Bible. Some footballers can actually see the bigger picture and Puyol is a case in point.

When Barcelona beat Manchester United in the final of the Champions League last season in Wembley, Puyol revealed a t-shirt after the game which read ‘Anims Miki’ (‘Cheer Up Miki’ in Catalan).

The friendship between the two defenders blossomed. Roque was a guest at the Camp Nou during Betis game against Barcelona but in the last few weeks his condition started to deteriorate.

Whilst all of Spain was celebrating last weekend’s win over France the delight soon started dissipate when news started to filter through that Miki Roque had died in Instituto Dexues, a hospital a mile from Camp Nou.

I can’t even begin to understand or imagine what it must have been like for Roque in his final days but I’d like to think that he took some comfort from the fact that he met a genuine human being who cared and wanted to help him get better.