It’s looking like Everton are close to confirming the transfer of Norwich City central defender Ben Godfrey, with major journalists (Paul Joyce, John Percy) reporting that the two clubs have an agreement on a £25m transfer fee plus add-ons, and that the player is due on Merseyside in the next 24 hours to have a medical.
Godfrey is a highly-touted youngster, who will turn 23 this coming January, and has been linked over the last couple of years with a number of teams - Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Fulham, Newcastle, Borussia Dortmund, RB Leipzig and Rennes to name a few, leading to the Canaries inking him to a five-year contract last summer.
Signing a defender from a relegated club that conceded a record number of goals is always a bit of a red flag, but you also have to take into consideration the manager he played for, the system he played in, and what role he played in that side. Norwich City did not go back down to the Championship with a bus parked in front of their goal - Daniel Farke would never hear of it. In fact, the Canaries were 10th in ball possession both home and away last season, something almost unheard of for clubs that stayed in the bottom three virtually all campaign long.
A big part of holding the ball for Farke’s side was playing out from the back using Godfrey’s abilities in possession. The England Under-21 defender was used as the left man in the centre back pairing, often finding the fullback close to him or spraying it out wide to the right back streaking down the pitch, as shown here in excellent detail in this scouting report done by Football Bloody Hell.
Godfrey is equally comfortable carrying the ball with him into the opposing team’s defensive third as well when the opportunity arises itself, shown again by Football Bloody Hell here against Chelsea, where he goes on to win a corner by playing a give-and-go and running into a vacated spot.
While Godfrey might be considered short at 6’0” for a centrehalf, he uses his muscular frame to good effect in the air, winning a respectable number of aerial challenges (61%) last season in the Premier League. Another area that the youngster stands out in is his recovery speed. Part of why Farke was comfortable with Godfrey pushing forward is because of his elite-level pace when sprinting back, something that Everton have struggled with badly in years past and have not really resolved yet either.
Ben Godfrey— EK (@EKRegista) July 27, 2020
At 22, Godfrey has distinct signs of having what it might take to be a top class modern CB. Average passing accuracy of 84.7%. 5.3 interceptions per game. 64.9% of defensive duels won, and an overall 73.3% successful actions. Is fast too, as the video shows. pic.twitter.com/4DkLNkHgql
For someone as comfortable on the ball as Godfrey is, it’s no surprise to hear that he started out playing as a forward.
“My footballing hero is actually Thierry Henry, although I don’t score that many goals.
“I was a striker when I was a kid, up until about the age of 11 or 12. I liked his style of play and stuff like that and he obviously got plenty of goals.”
It was as a teenager that he found himself at home in the middle of the park, playing midfielder for League Two York City where he was impressive before being snapped up by Norwich. The Canaries loaned him out to Shrewsbury where again he made his name in midfield, playing 51 games before losing in the League One playoffs final.
Back at Norwich, Farke waxed lyrical about the youngster’s ability and why he chose to move him to centrehalf in an interview with The Pink’Un.
“We have had an honest chat about this and Ben is totally aware of my plans and my thoughts. To play in midfield at a lower level helps you to improve your performance in defence because he knows what type of passes those holding midfielders need.
“Look at many world-class centre backs, they nearly all started in central midfield. Gerard Piqué in Spain, Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng in Germany, even in England with Rio Ferdinand at the very start.
“I have the feeling when he gets used to this position and can have more games to learn the decision-making in the last row because it is different, he has all the ingredients to be an outstanding centre back, world-class.
“He can have a great, great career. Maybe in the holding midfielder he can be a good Championship player, maybe higher, but I see him in training and in the cup games and pre-season and I see his mid to long term future in that position.”
Often compared by Canaries’ fans to the legendary Rio Ferdinand, Godfrey admits that the former England captain has been a mentor to him through his relationship with the youngster’s agents [Pink‘Un].
“In terms of being a centre-back, there’s not been a better person to speak to for advice in however many years. Anything he says, goes really. He’s class and he helps me so much. He’s got a lot of time for me. He’s a top guy and it’s good to speak to him.
“I will get my clips together after a game, send them to Rio and he’ll come back and say: ‘to be honest, I’d have done this or this…’ or tell me what I’ve done well.
“I’m always trying to learn and improve and there’s no-one better to give me advice.”
Ferdinand himself is a big believer in the youngster’s abilities, and picked him as an up-and-coming player to watch in January of this year.
Q: Best up and coming player to watch in the premier league? #BTAllDayer @mrjakehumphrey— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) January 1, 2020
A: @rioferdy5 - Tammy Abraham, Jack Grealish & Ben Godfrey@Persie_Official - Mason Mount & Phil Foden pic.twitter.com/Ge0AJNI0lO
Now Godfrey will get a chance to be mentored by one of the coaching legends in the game in Carlo Ancelotti, under whom a number of Everton players seem to have had a new lease of life, not least defenders Michael Keane, Seamus Coleman, Lucas Digne and even Mason Holgate. The relevance of the last name in that list is one that becomes more and more important as we study up on Godfrey.
There are some striking similarities between Holgate and Godfrey - both 6 feet tall, quick and comfortable on the ball, have a good eye for a pass, leverage themselves well on the pitch whether playing as defensive midfielder or centre half. The common thread doesn’t end there - taking a look at their 2019-20 stats, it’s almost as if looking at the same player.
Everton’s needs at centrehalf are well-documented - Yerry Mina remains fragile, Holgate could be out until the end of the calendar year, Michael Keane is solid but slow, Jarrad Branthwaite is still young and relatively untested and Lewis Gibson has been sent out on loan. The Blues needs a player that can step in right away into the starting lineup, and it looks like Godfrey - who it has been reported that Ancelotti quite likes - is ready to do just that.