Wataru Endo’s ability to cover ground makes it feel as if you’re playing with an extra man. But, even still, it seems like a rather cruel initiation for Liverpool to put his word to the test by playing the majority of his first two appearances for the club with 10 men — following that up with a brief cameo in their 3-0 win against Aston Villa.
Endo, though, is a character used to leading teams through adversity. With his brand of high-energy football dragging Stuttgart to safety by the slimmest of margins in back-to-back seasons. Their relegation play-off win over Hamburg in June was a fitting parting gift to a club he captained with such esteem, with Endo making the move to Liverpool for £16 million and penning a deal through 2027.
The Japanese midfielder’s evolution stands as a feat of engineering in a city widely referred to as ‘the cradle of the automobile.’ With an engine that never runs out and a durability that saw him clock up 133 appearances in just four seasons. Endo is less so a Rolls Royce of a player than that dependable family car, which your dad just can’t bear the thought of replacing.
At 30 years old, there’s certainly some mileage on the tank for Endo. But if his initial appearances, under trying circumstances, are anything to go by, then he looks like the cut-price facilitator that Jurgen Klopp was after. Liverpool’s midfield regeneration project this summer has followed the infamous three-act structure. There’s been action, there’s been conflict, and ultimately, there’s been a resolution in the form of Alexis MacAllister, Dominik Szoboszlai and the combustible Endo. After months of rumours and speculation, Klopp has finally settled on a midfield to jump-start his tenure at Liverpool.
Last season saw Liverpool struggle to gain control of games. Whilst Mohamed Salah’s goals ensured they remained a threat going forward, it was in transition that Klopp’s men were exposed. High-octane football is always played with an element of risk, but with ageing legs in midfield, they were left wide open on the counter. Enter Endo.
The diminutive midfielder’s arrival on Merseyside, however, was born out of necessity more than anything else. Whilst Szoboszlai and MacAllister looked sharp in possession against Chelsea on the opening weekend, the gaps they left behind them were all too apparent. Endo has come in to plug the gaps – scanning space, reading danger, and acting instinctively. As previously mentioned, he is the selfless facilitator who will allow Liverpool’s attackers to take more risks.
This is, of course, a step up for Endo, a man who has predicated his career on survival instincts over anything else, and at times, he looked lost against Newcastle, with Bruno Guimarães pulling the strings. But whilst he was left chasing his own tail on one too many occasions in the first half, the dismissal of Virgil van Dijk actually elevated his performance. Thrust into his natural habitat, Liverpool’s game became about compactness and determination, and from that, Endo was able to exert more control.
The next step will be for Endo to take charge of situations in a more proactive manner. He can’t wait for a teammate to be dismissed before finding his rhythm. But this feels like a natural progression for the midfielder, who was used to springing from box to box during his time at Stuttgart, often proving a reliable source of goals when the ball became loose in and around the area.
Endo has all the capabilities to fit seamlessly into Liverpool’s team given time. A natural leader with experience playing in a high-energy system. He is a selfless player who’ll likely be malleable to Klopp’s tactical demands. Liverpool don’t need Endo to stand out, they need him to stand up.
By: Sam Tabuteau / @TabuteauS
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Matthew Ashton – AMA / Getty Images