UPDATE: Tuesday, November 5, 5pm BST
Son’s red card has since been rescinded by the FA and the player will face no disciplinary action whatsoever, not even a yellow card.
Have you ever tried to use Twitter as a gauge for general consensus on a topical issue? Don’t. Whether it’s Brexit, whatever Morrissey has said or worn or, in this case, a horrible injury for André Gomes, there’s a reason why even someone as brash and outspoken as Noel Gallagher describes the website as ‘the playground of f***ing idiots’.
Naturally, the Twittersphere was left divided again on Sunday evening, after Everton’s tame 1-1 home draw with Tottenham Hotspur was marred by Gomes’ truly awful collision with Spurs’ Serge Aurier, suffered after a rash tackle on the midfielder from Son Heung-min, who was then sent off. Not divided over support for Gomes, who faces surgery for a fractured dislocation to his right ankle; that was universal for a genuinely beloved Everton player. No, it was whether, upon Son, pity should also taken.
Son, it should be noted, is racked with guilt. His tearful, grief-stricken face immediately after the incident, hands clasped over his mouth in disbelief at his own actions, said as much, as did Spurs’ scorer Dele Alli and manager Mauricio Pochettino in their respective post-match interviews. And that, coupled with the fact that Son is clearly a lovely guy, was enough for some quarters to spin the ‘not that type of player’ rhetoric again.
Here’s the issue in a nutshell. Nobody is claiming that Son’s intention was to inflict as much pain on Gomes as he ultimately did. The malice clearly resided in his head rather than his feet. But you can still side with this notion and simultaneously acknowledge that it was a dreadfully reckless tackle. That Gomes’ unavoidable subsequent clash with Aurier - an unfortunate casualty who should be absolved of all blame - probably caused a great extent of the damage bears not one iota of relevance, either, given it was Son who set the events in motion.
Only Son himself will know for sure, but the intent to win the ball back for Spurs looked glaringly absent as he lunged in, having also nipped at Alex Iwobi right before Everton’s number 17 passed to Gomes. That Son had been denied a twice-reviewed penalty by VAR and then seemingly been the recipient of Gomes’ left forearm minutes earlier clearly adds weight to this argument. This was not impulsive. This had been brewing.
It then triggered not only an outpouring of condolences for Son from social media, but also from Everton captain Seamus Coleman, who reportedly visited him in the away team dressing room after the game to console him. Which, as much as some may laud yet another wonderful show of humanity from Coleman, just doesn’t seem right; at least not in the immediate aftermath of the match, anyway. As mentioned earlier, Son did not go after Gomes wishing to cause the grave damage that he ultimately did, but he’s still responsible. When thoughts and best wishes should have been sent entirely in Gomes’ direction, it feels counter-intuitive to also reach out to the protagonist, Son (note ‘also reach out’ to Son, not instead of Gomes - let’s make that doubly clear).
Son, aside from any mental scars - and the potential depth and impact of those should not be overlooked or trivialised - should be fine. To all intents and purposes, apart from an ill-tempered push on Bournemouth’s Jefferson Lerma in May which also earned him a sending-off, it’s also a fair argument to say he doesn’t typically have this in him. Four yellow cards and two reds in the Premier League since joining Spurs more than four years ago certainly suggests so, and for that, you could name dozens of fellow top-flight players who would not have enjoyed the sort of widespread lenience as he has if they were in his shoes. His actions have cost him just three matches of his career - possibly even none should Tottenham win their appeal against their decision - but have probably cost Gomes at least 12 months of his. Which is why, essentially, it’s hard to feel for him.
This is not an attempt to vilify Son, either, much as it may come across as such. He was unequivocally wrong to commit such an offence, but so too have Everton players in the past for similar misdemeanours; not least Gomes himself when he unnecessarily stamped on Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrović in April. In 2016, Ramiro Funes Mori was also wrong to clumsily challenge Liverpool’s Divock Origi, forcing the Belgian to be stretchered off, while the red-carded defender offered a risible tug at the Everton badge to the dismayed contingent of Blues fans on that sobering night at Anfield.
Though Mori later apologised, it is important to emphasise that context or reputations of players should be immaterial when judging these issues. Whether you’re a Nobel Peace Prize winner or an ex-convict, Gary Lineker or Vinnie Jones, a bad tackle is a bad tackle, and should be viewed that way implicitly.
There is also, perhaps, a wider issue reflected in Coleman’s actions, which may support this belief that Everton are still too nice a football club for their own good. They’re the sort who applauded a former player in Steven Naismith after scoring against them for Norwich City. They’re the sort who, too often, take contentious refereeing decisions lying down; not least in Sunday’s draw and in last weekend’s defeat at Brighton & Hove Albion. And now, it seems, they’re the sort who offer solidarity to a man who intended to hurt one of their own players - albeit not as seriously as he actually did - and succeeded.
And while Son deserves respect for at least being contrite, he should not warrant any measure of sympathy as the architect of Gomes’ misfortune. Now, only Gomes’ welfare should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds, for an exceptionally talented footballer and, more importantly, human being, has had a hefty chunk of his career cruelly snatched away from him at a time when, at 26, he should be reaching the peak of his powers.