The circumstances behind a near £16m signing of Wataru Endo might have some Liverpool supporters concerned. The failed pursuits of both Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia have left Jurgen Klopp short of options in midfield and turning to the 30-year-old Endo could be seen as a desperation move.
Stuttgart’s captain is not a young talent to excite in the mould of those other names. But given the departures of Fabinho, Jordan Henderson and James Milner, this acquisition might be one of the smarter bits of business that Liverpool could have done.
He is a reliable performer, who will be determined to seize this opportunity, an expert in the holding role who can contribute to both the defensive and offensive phase of the game. There are no question marks over his character – just ask those who know him.
‘He is a really great player’
It was the final question for Bundesliga legend Mario Gomez as he sat down with a group of international journalists at the Allianz Arena on Saturday evening. Japanese reporter Daisuke Ishii asked about Endo, the former striker’s old team-mate at Stuttgart.
Gomez had already discussed everything from Germany’s problems to his own Spanish roots, but his eyes lit up at the mention of Endo. “I love Wataru, to be honest.” It was he who had pushed for the player’s inclusion when both found themselves out of the team.
“Wataru sat next to me in the dressing room and had a really hard time because the coach did not use him at the beginning.” In 2020, Gomez was in the final season of his career and had adjusted to his own situation, a mentor to the squad. “I was happy with this role.”
Endo, in his prime, was more frustrated. “I was always telling him just to keep calm, keep doing what he was doing because he did amazing in training.” So amazing, in fact, that it became a running theme of the sessions than Gomez would pair up with Endo.
“After the game we had the four against four,” Gomez explains. “When I came into the dressing room, I was always telling the coach to put me in the same team as Wataru because then we will never lose. This is how it started. I was just pushing him a lot.
“At a certain point, the coach used him. And then it is not me, it is about the player, because he played fantastic. That is why he is playing not because I told the coach that he is great. It is because he is a really great player. Now, he is the captain of his team.”
Gomez regards Endo as an “example of how team sport should look” because of his attitude – someone who is “always giving everything for the group”. He admires his serenity in coping with his young children. “I have three and I am struggling. He is just never stressed.”
But just as his performances in those four-against-four games in training would suggest, this is about more than his good character, more even than the versatility that could see him fill in at the back as well as in midfield for Liverpool. Endo has the quality to succeed too.
Endo’s impressive statistics
Klopp will relish his combative approach. This is a player who ranked sixth last season for duels won in the Bundesliga. In the past three seasons, he is one of only three players to make 200 tackles, one of only two to win the ball back 400 times in the middle of the pitch.
Having deployed Alexis Mac Allister in that deeper role on the opening weekend and missed out on both Caicedo and Lavia to Chelsea, Liverpool’s need for a defensive-minded midfielder is obvious. Endo has shown in his long career that he can do that job.
What makes him a particularly interesting proposition, perhaps what persuaded Klopp to make the move, is that his in-possession game is good enough to thrive in the Premier League too. Like those other targets, Endo can be much more than a mere destroyer.
His passing statistics are solid and there is creativity there too. Remarkably, there were only four players – Jamal Musiala, Dominik Szoboszlai, Moussa Diaby and Raphael Guerreiro – who created more chances from open play than Endo in the Bundesliga last season.
He can get forward to press and to pass, essential even for the more defensive players in a Klopp team. Endo won the ball back 22 times in the final third last season and scored twice from Stuttgart counter-attacks. He even scored three goals from outside the box.
That he ranks so highly on so many metrics owes much to the fact that he has been a virtual ever-present for his club since Gomez made his case back in 2020. In fact, no player in the Bundesliga has started more games than Endo over the past three seasons.
But then that is the sort of robustness that Klopp will require, particularly after being burned by the Arthur Melo experience – not the name of a jazz band but the injury-prone Brazilian loaned from Juventus last season who did not play a Premier League minute.
Endo is a safer bet. And if he does find himself kicking his heels as a substitute, the message to his new Liverpool team-mates will be clear. Just make sure he is first pick for that small-sided game in training afterwards. He will not stay on the bench for long.