The circumstances behind Wataru Endo’s nearly £16m signing may concern some Liverpool supporters. The failed pursuit of both Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia has left Jurgen Klopp with a lack of midfield options and the move to 30-year-old Endo could be seen as a desperate move.
The captain of Stuttgart is not a young talent to be excited about following the stereotypes of those names. But with the departures of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, the acquisition could be one of the smarter ones Liverpool could make.
He is a reliable player who will be determined to seize this opportunity, an expert in leadership roles who can contribute to both the defensive and offensive phases of the game. There are no question marks about his personality – just ask those who know him.
‘He’s a really great player’
That was the final question for Bundesliga legend Mario Gomez as he chatted with a group of international journalists at the Allianz Arena on Saturday night. Japanese reporter Daisuke Ishii asked about Endo, the striker’s former teammate at Stuttgart.
Gomez discussed everything from German affairs to his own Hispanic roots, but his eyes lit up at the mention of Endo. “I love Wataru, to be honest.” It was he who promoted the integration of players when both were dropped from the team.
“Wataru sat next to me in the dressing room and had a really hard time because the coach didn’t use him in the first place.” In 2020, Gomez is in the final season of his career and has adapted to his own situation, a mentor to the team. “I’m satisfied with the role.”
Endo, in his prime, was more than disappointed. “I always tell him to stay calm, keep doing what he’s doing because he’s been doing really well in training.” Great, in fact, it became more of the running theme of the sessions than Gomez would pair with Endo.
Gomez explained: “After the game, we were four against four. “When I walk into the dressing room, I always tell the coach to put me on the same team as Wataru because then we will never be able to do that. It started like this. I just pushed him a lot.
“At a certain point, the coach used him. And then it wasn’t me, it was about the player, because he played great. That’s why he didn’t play. It’s because I told the coach he’s great. It’s because he’s a really great player. Now he’s the captain of his team.”
Image of Mario Gomez training with Wataru Endo for Stuttgart in 2020
Gomez considers Endo an “example of what team sports should look like” because of his attitude – someone who is “always giving everything for the team”. He admired his serenity in dealing with his young children. “I have three and I’m having a hard time. He’s never stressed.”
But just as his performance in 4-on-4 matches in practice would suggest, it’s not just his good qualities, even more the versatility that can help him fill full in defense as well as midfield for Liverpool. Endo also has the qualities to be successful.
Wataru Endo’s sonar and heat map for Japan at the 2022 World Cup
Endo’s impressive statistics
Klopp will enjoy his combative approach. This is the player who ranked 6th last season in terms of wins in the Bundesliga. In the past three seasons, he has been one of only three players to make 200 tackles, one of only two to win back the ball 400 times in midfield.
After deploying Alexis Mac Allister in that deeper role at the opening weekend and missing out on both Caicedo and Lavia for Chelsea, Liverpool’s need for a defensive midfielder is evident. Endo has shown in his long career that he can do the job.
What makes him a particularly interesting proposition, perhaps what convinced Klopp to make the move, is that his play on the ball is good enough to thrive in the Premier League. Like the other targets, Endo can be more than just a mere terminator.
His pass stats are solid and there’s creativity there too. Notably, only four players – Jamal Musiala, Dominik Szoboszlai, Moussa Diaby and Raphael Guerreiro – created more opportunities from open play than Endo in the Bundesliga last season.
He can come forward to press and pass, essential even for the more defensive players in Klopp’s team. Endo won the ball 22 times in the last third of last season and scored two goals from Stuttgart’s counter-attacks. He even scored three goals from outside the box.
The fact that he ranks so high on so many metrics is largely due to him being a virtual presence for his club since Gomez made his case in 2020. In fact, there is none. Which Bundesliga player has started more matches than Endo? the past three seasons.
But then it’s the punch that Klopp will need, especially after being ignited by the experience of Arthur Melo – not the name of a jazz band but the injury-prone Brazilian on loan. from Juventus last season, who did not play a minute in the Premier League.
Endo is a safer bet. And if he finds himself kicking in as a substitute, his message to his new Liverpool teammates will be clear. Just make sure he gets picked first for that mini-game in the rehearsal afterwards. He won’t be on the bench for long.