Jurgen Klopp and Jorg Schmadtke, Liverpool’s temporary sporting director, pursued a holding midfielder even before they decided to cash in on Jordan Henderson and Fabinho to Saudi clubs. They wanted Romeo Lavia but after a prolonged saga, the 19-year-old joined Chelsea from Southampton for £58m. Chelsea was also the destination for Brighton’s Moises Caicedo who declined to join us and instead went to the Blues for £115m. Those failures forced our brain trust to look at other options. Enter Wataru Endo, a Stuttgart midfielder barely known outside of Germany or Japan.
WHO IS WATARU ENDO?
In terms of Endo’s price, about £15m seems more than fair given his age (30) and contract from Stuttgart (one year left). His value to the Bundesliga outfit was immense, on and off the field. He joined in 2020 from Belgian Pro League club Sint-Truidense. The Japanese international played 40 games last season. Despite primarily being deployed as a defensive midfielder, he still managed six goals and five assists.
Endo is considered one of the fiercest competitors in the Bundesliga as well as an outstanding role model for his younger teammates. Klopp had to have been intrigued by the idea of the double-captain leading a group of young midfielders (Alexis Mac Allister is 24, Dominik Szoboszlai is 22) as he did in helping Stuttgart stave off relegation.
Endo’s leadership skills have been heavily lauded. But it is clear that his role at Liverpool will be to disrupt opposition attacks. Wataru is statistically one of the best ball-winners in Europe. He ranked highly across the top five leagues in clearances and aerial duels won. His pressing, a Klopp staple, is phenomenal as well. He is a tireless pursuer of regaining possession once his side loses it.
Last season, Endo played higher up the pitch after Orel Mangala left Stuttgart for Nottingham Forest. He’s not a traditional playmaker, averaging about 80% with pass completion. However, he did a decent enough job initiating counterattacks while still being able to support his defense. His versatility extends to a Fabinho-esque ability to slot into the center-back role when required.
A HASTY BOW
Having signed Friday, Endo made his Liverpool debut on Sunday off the bench against Bournemouth. Alexis Mac Allister’s comical red card hastened this appearance, but it was still a good time to come on. A couple of mistimed tackles are more than likely a combination of nerves and an unfamiliarity with the speed of the Premier League. But if his track record holds true, Liverpool may have saved themselves over £150m and a bevy of headaches with agents and attitudes.