One incident in particular stands out when former Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst thinks back to his time working with Ben Godfrey on the training ground. He had already given the teenager a couple of gentle reminders not to be overzealous with his tackling. These were his team-mates he was up against not the opposition. It was time to make that point again.
“The next day he went out and did exactly the same thing,” Hurst tells Sky Sports.
“I turned to my assistant and said, ‘I’m wasting my breath here’.”
Hurst chuckles at the thought. The anecdote is not designed to paint Everton’s new £25m signing from Norwich as a player who would not listen. Instead, he sees the example as an illustration of the intensity with which the then 19-year-old Godfrey took on the challenge.
“Ben is obviously a far better player than I ever was but that desire to compete was something that I could identify with and wanted in my team. I like my players to tackle like it is a game in training and want to compete, and that is something that he loved to do.
“He just wants to win.”
Godfrey’s progress since that loan spell at Shrewsbury has been there for all to see. The following season he broke into the Norwich first team and played an important role in the club’s promotion to the Premier League. Last year brought a taste of life in the top flight and the young defender was one of the better performers in a doomed battle against the drop.
Carlo Ancelotti saw enough to part with £25m of Everton’s money to take Godfrey to Goodison Park, where he made his debut for the club in the derby against Liverpool.
A steady rise, then, but one that started with that 51-game season with Shrewsbury. That year, the pre-season favourites for relegation confounded expectations to reach the play-off final at Wembley – one of two trips to the home of football in a dramatic year.
At the time, Shrewsbury’s success was a shock. In hindsight, the presence of Godfrey and goalkeeper Dean Henderson in the team is an indication of the quality within the group.
“I’m not sure there was enough praise for what a good team we had,” says Hurst. “A lot was made of the fitness side which I have no problem with because it was certainly one of the contributing factors. But we probably did have better players than they got credit for.
“Ben and Dean are the real standouts in terms of the careers they are having. I am really pleased. Not because I worked with them, just because I saw what good lads they were.
“I think it is really difficult to sit here and say I knew it was going to happen because it is a massive step up from League One. For anyone to play in the Premier League is a big ask.
“What I would say is that both of them have great attitudes, albeit in different ways. Dean had that self-belief and wanted to be the best. Ben had confidence too but he was different.
“His attitude was there in his work rate. He is one of those players, and I am not sure how many are around now, who, as the saying goes, would kick his own granny to get where he needs to be. That is no slight on him, I mean that in the very best sense. He is a winner.”
Godfrey’s subsequent success has come at centre-back and though he is being asked to fill in at right-back for Everton, that is the position that he is expected to fill in the long term.
But it was at the heart of the midfield where he impressed for Shrewsbury.
“We spoke about that and I still would not change that even with hindsight. At centre-half in League One, the height was a concern, as silly as that sounds, because of the number of crosses into the box at that level compared to the Championship or the Premier League.
“I think it helps players to play in different positions. It is a sign of a good player. But the thought even back then was that centre-half would eventually be his position in the end.”
Godfrey has bulked up since those teenage days but the fact that he was exposed to senior football down the leagues long before he had the frame to bully opponents the way that he can now is to his advantage. He has the technical ability as well as the physicality.
“He broke into the team at York as a 17-year-old player,” recalls Hurst.
“While he has become a strong boy, he could not rely on his physical attributes back then, he had to have the other aspects of his game. So he was ready for first-team football.”
After his year in the frenzied midfield environment that is life in League One, Godfrey was ready for just about anything. Certainly, he will have felt better prepared to play in defence after that, with the whole game ahead of him, and more time on the ball.
With the spotlight on the future of the pyramid in England, the role that Shrewsbury played in the development of a young English talent now valued at £25m should not be overlooked. Amid talk of B teams and bail outs, here is an example of the system working for everyone.
“I have watched U23s football,” says Hurst.
“You watch people to find these players like Ben but you often come away having found it difficult to gauge. Someone might occasionally catch the eye but it all feels very false.
“Maybe it is an old-fashioned view but I really hope the structure does not change because I still do not think that you can replicate going out on loan. It puts pressure on you. There are new team-mates putting pressure on you to win points. When fans were there, you are dealing with the atmosphere too. They are going to criticise when things go wrong.
“Just getting away from the comfort zone, some players need that. If they transition to the first team quickly then fine, but some of these lads probably need different experiences. I am a big believer in going somewhere else. It can open your eyes up to what you have got as a young player because that can be easy to take for granted at some of these big clubs.
“Whether it is to develop players or just to help them appreciate what they have got so that they go back to their clubs and work harder than they were before, I think it is a great way.
“Also, not all of these young lads are going to make it at a top team and they are going to have to drop down the leagues. When they do, some cannot adapt. If Ben had left Norwich and had to drop down, he would 100 per cent still have succeeded and got back.”
From his start at York through his loan spell at Shrewsbury and experiencing the highs and lows with Norwich, Godfrey has shown that he has the mentality to succeed. His old boss believes that even with 150 senior games already to his name, he is just getting started.
“He is beginning to read the game very well now,” adds Hurst.
“For me, he can improve further. I expect him to continue to do that.”