Home News How Wataru Endo successfully broke Liverpool’s transfer mould

How Wataru Endo successfully broke Liverpool’s transfer mould

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With the benefit of hindsight, it was exactly what was needed at the right time. But it is also fair to say that Wataru Endo’s arrival was greeted with its fair share of raised eyebrows.

Liverpool’s title-challenging midfield is almost unrecognisable from the one that failed to land a top four place for the first time in seven seasons just 10 months ago.

Naby Keita, James Milner and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all waved their goodbyes on the final day of the 2022/23 campaign and made way for Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai at the beginning of the summer, but the engine refit wasn’t done there.

The former brought a World Cup medal with him, while the sheer price tag and reputation of the latter was enough to quickly get the fans on board.

Then along came Wataru Endo, a £16 million curveball from Stuttgart who nobody knew anything about, let alone saw coming.

 

Scratched heads

His arrival was met by a mixed reception, with the instinct of many being that he was simply the first course as far as filling the No. 6 void was concerned following the further departures of Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to the Saudi Pro League.

It couldn’t possibly be that an unknown 30-year-old quantity was the answer to our prayers at the base of the midfield, particularly given the failed mega-money attempts to land Romeo Lavia and Moises Caicedo that ensued.

The next dish had to be something substantial, someone with a fashionable name or an eye-catching price tag, didn’t it?

And yet, once again, many among us were made to look like fools for our scepticism. After a brief bedding in period the Japan captain became a vital cog in the machine, his importance underlined by the fears sparked by his departure to the Asia Cup.

The squad’s only specialist senior defensive midfielder has been borderline undroppable in recent months, all while Alexis Mac Allister has looked similarly impressive when asked to drop deeper in the middle.

Despite having now turned 31, the four-year deal handed to him during the summer perhaps ought to have served as an indication that Jurgen Klopp wasn’t viewing him as the stopgap signing many believed him to be, with or without the benefit of hindsight.

We have become accustomed to unearthing gems in the sweet-spot period before they hit their prime, but doing so with a player who already had 13 years of professional football under his belt certainly feels like an anomaly.

 

Hitting his stride

Wataru Endo of Liverpool with the Carabao Cup trophy at the end of the Carabao Cup Final between Chelsea and Liverpool at Wembley Stadium on February 25, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Andrew Powell/Liverpool FC via Getty Images)

Endo was scintillating during Liverpool’s show of defiance against Man City at Anfield, just as he had been at Wembley two weeks earlier.

There are still occasions on which he will allow himself the early period to feel out an opponent during games, much like elite boxers use the first few rounds to scope out potential areas of danger.

It can appear in those instances that he is taking time to grow into matches, but the reality is that he is using all of his experience and game intelligence to monitor just how he anticipates his role to play out over the 90 minutes.

Praising his relentless work rate and willingness to put his body on the line for the cause would feel insufficient in terms of what he has provided so far this season.

But he has visibly played like someone hellbent on grabbing this somewhat unexpected opportunity with both hands, and then some.

He has three fellow summer arrivals to compete with in the middle of the park, along with two of Liverpool’s most consistent performers throughout 2023/24 in Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott.

And yet, should Liverpool find themselves needing a win to secure the Premier League title against Wolves in May, or in a Europa League final three days later, you’d be hard-pushed to find reason to leave Endo out regardless of how many fit and available options the manager has.

 

Silencing the doubters

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - Sunday, December 3, 2023: Liverpool's Wataru Endo celebrates after scoring the third goal to equalise and level the score at 3-3 during the FA Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Fulham FC at Anfield. Liverpol won 4-3. (Photo by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

In fairness, the initial August scepticism was somewhat understandable given the track record of acquiring players in their early 20s and allowing them to explode on our books.

But what Endo has proved is that the club can successfully stray from convention when the right opportunities present themselves.

Valid concerns were raised about a lack experience and leadership within the dressing room when both the captain and vice-captain departed within a matter of months of each other.

As the leader of his national team with a bunch of miles on his own clock, Endo was viewed as an ideal solution to redress that balance, but he has gone above and beyond all expectations with the levels he has shown on the pitch.

New signings scarcely fly out of the blocks, Luis Diaz and Szoboszlai proving themselves to be among the exceptions in recent years, but Liverpool very rarely miss in the transfer market and there will always be a method to the madness.

As is often the case, the Endo doubters are now virtually non-existent and his catchy new song speaks volumes for the fondness now felt from the terraces.

Perhaps it’s time to stop judging signings before they’ve kicked a ball and leave the experts to it.