Andre Gomes has his hands slightly apart and is making a twisting motion. There is a smile, too, as he begins a two-minute explanation that concludes with an audible gasp from the small audience sitting before him.
We are at Finch Farm, Everton‘s training ground, to see the Portugal midfielder. His has been one of the most remarkable individual stories of this Premier League campaign and, after coming through a significant substitute appearance at Arsenal last Sunday, Gomes is ready to share it.
‘The past was a scary moment,’ he says, as he settles down to talk. ‘But it feels good to be back — really, really good.’
Everton midfielder Andre Gomes tells Sportsmail about his recovery from horror ankle injury
Gomes suffered a dislocated ankle during Everton’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham in September
The midfielder has made an incredible comeback and returned against Arsenal on Sunday
Over the course of the next 30 minutes, Gomes will discuss post-traumatic stress, attack the darker side of social media and explain his amazement about the avalanche of good wishes he received. But first, it is time to return to the afternoon of Sunday, November 3.
Specifically, everything you will read from now is a consequence of the 79th minute of 1-1 draw with Tottenham. Gomes suffered a fracture dislocation of his right ankle after being fouled by Son Heung-min, an incident that was so sickening many wondered if he would ever fully recover.
The fact he came on as a second-half substitute at Arsenal last Sunday, 111 days after sustaining the injury, is testament to his powers of recovery. It is also down, in no small part, to the alacrity and skill of Everton’s club doctor, John Hollingsworth.
Gomes suffered the injury after a foul by Son Heung-min during the second half of the contest
Son immediately showed his remorse, while Gomes screamed in agony after realising damage
The midfielder was given oxygen and adrenaline which he says made him feel ‘mad’
When Dr Hollingsworth arrived at his side, he assessed the situation and told Gomes he would turn his foot back into place. Without that intervention, this rehabilitation might not have been so straightforward. It is here that Gomes starts making gestures for added emphasis.
‘When it happened, I couldn’t look at my foot,’ says Gomes. ‘I was trying to avoid it. I didn’t want that picture in my mind. I knew straight away something was wrong because I was already in pain.’
Those feelings were exacerbated when he looked towards the family enclosure and saw parents shielding their children’s eyes. A ring of stewards, who stood on the touchline in an attempt to provide some privacy, added to the sense that this was nothing normal.
‘The doctor was unbelievable,’ Gomes continues. ‘It was really important what he did. He was really fast. I knew he wanted to do that. I rejected oxygen because with the adrenalin I was so mad. I was feeling everything.
Everton doctor John Hollingsworth (right) put the ankle back in place with Gomes on pitch
Gomes has hailed Hollingsworth and says his quick intervention could have saved his career
‘While I’m screaming, I can see the crowd in the stand looking at me and going like this (he holds his hands to his face to convey horror). I can see the corner of the Main Stand looking at me and they are taking their kids out of the picture!
‘I knew something was pointing in the wrong direction. I wanted to be sure he was doing all the things properly and, actually, he was unbelievable. He put my ankle in the right place. I did my ligaments and a bone injury. He put it in place two times, rotating it and then putting it in place.
‘I remember Cenk (Tosun, who held his head in comfort), Lucas (Digne) and Richarlison were close by as well. Luis Boa Morte (former assistant coach) was next to me and I think I punched him (when the ankle clicked)! It was harder mentally than physically.’
Gomes’ injury could’ve resulted in more severe consequences according to another expert
Gomes is now in full flow and it feels as if this conversation is, in some ways, cathartic. He has never watched the footage but the minute detail he provides, given the pain that was ripping through his body, is quite remarkable.
He tells a story about how his brother, Nuno, was in an executive box. He had brought his daughter to a match for the first time and what should have been a dream day turned into a nightmare.
‘People told me my brother wanted to run from the stands to the pitch and the stewards were saying, ‘No! No! Don’t do that!’ The doctor did a brilliant job on the pitch. Then on the way to the hospital, Nuno was with me. It was really hard for everybody.’
Gomes can remember seeing the reaction of team-mate Richarlison and Son moments after
Gomes had a phone conversation with Son 48 hours later and exonerated him of blame
Nobody, though, had it harder than Gomes. For two weeks, he couldn’t speak to anyone about the future. He had a phone conversation with Son 48 hours afterwards and exonerated the South Korean of any blame but still he couldn’t process what had happened.
‘Son is a nice guy,’ says Gomes. ‘He apologised, I explained to him that things like this happen. Obviously it wasn’t on purpose.’
During those first two weeks, flashbacks started. There would be moments when his right foot would start twitching of its own accord and this, he learned, was down to his memory — the more he thought about it, the more it would happen. ‘Let’s face it,’ he says with some gallows humour, ‘it was quite funny to see it!’
What wasn’t funny was the image that went viral in the hours afterwards. For some macabre reason, a picture had been mocked up of a horribly damaged ankle and it was claimed it was Gomes’ in hospital. He never saw it but was made aware of what had gone on.
Gomes received messages of support from fans and players including Messi and Ronaldo
The Portugal international then got to work on his rehabilitation at Everton’s training ground
A team of backroom staff at the club have helped Gomes return to action earlier than expected
‘With social media and the internet, everything goes really fast,’ he says, shaking his head. ‘I believe, somehow, people think, ‘Poor guy’ but then (they go online) and see if I can find something straight away. It was so weird. That’s why I didn’t try to see them.’
The one thing he could see, however, was a positive future. Once it became clear the surgery had been a complete success, he began to formulate a plan of how and when he could think about relaunching his career.
All the way through his phone would buzz with messages from everyone from Lionel Messi, with whom he played at Barcelona, to his compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo. There was even an unexpected message from Alan Shearer, who during his playing days suffered a similar injury at Goodison Park.
There was a tidal wave of goodwill, too, from Everton supporters and it merely increased his determination to come back fitter and stronger than before.
‘I’m not going to lie,’ he says. ‘During this period, I had really bad moments. I can’t say I didn’t have pain or that I didn’t have my foot blocked like a rock. I had days like that but I wanted to be back with the team as soon as possible.
Gomes says he had just two days off prior to Christmas and worked around the clock on rehab
He’s confident he’ll suffer no mental or physical after-effects following his injury
Gomes could start against United at Goodison Park on Saturday
‘I think I had two days off, on Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. Normally I would wake up at 7am, start work at 8am. Then maybe three hours work, plus three hours gym, maybe two extra hours in pool then rest, eat, do mobility. Rest some more, maybe an hour on the bike. Then dinner, then go to sleep. I did that for maybe two months. The next question was when I come back will I be the same player as before? Maybe better? That was a small concern but people I spoke to about my specific injury helped. Once I knew the answers to questions I had, it became easier.’
He makes it sound as if was something normal but the reality is different. Gomes would not have returned to a thunderous ovation at the Emirates Stadium if he had not squeezed every last drop out of himself or done everything correctly.
Whether he starts Sunday’s clash with Manchester United, which will see a reunion with his good friend Bruno Fernandes, or comes off the bench again, it is clear the 26-year-old will have a major part to play in helping Everton move forward and Carlo Ancelotti is excited by his return.
Gomes says he won’t hesitate to ‘go hard’ in tackles and will be the same player he was before
Ancelotti’s delight, nonetheless, cannot equate to the relief Gomes feels. It will take a little time to get fully up to speed but the fact he is here smiling and looking so positive is a victory in itself. It also exorcises the memory of him lying helplessly on the turf.
‘I have to put it behind me, I have to, otherwise people will notice,’ says Gomes. ‘If I don’t compete then people will know and say: ‘Maybe he is afraid’ and ‘maybe he is not putting his foot in’.
‘You can protect yourselves but 80 per cent of the time you have to go hard, especially in the Premier League. I can’t be different. I need to go hard. I need to be the same guy I was before.’