Eyebrows were raised when Liverpool decided to sign Japan captain Wataru Endo from VfB Stuttgart for an initial £16m.
The Reds had missed out on Moises Caicedo, with the midfielder opting to join Chelsea, while they were seemingly late to the Declan Rice party, with Arsenal having done the groundwork months in advance to secure his services in a deal worth over £100m.
The Merseyside club likely didn’t have any plans to bring in a holding midfielder this summer but the departures of Fabinho and Jordan Henderson to the Saudi Pro League forced their hand. Combine that with the loss of vice–captain James Milner and it did make sense for Jurgen Klopp to bring in an experienced head in the middle third to balance out the additions of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai.
Endo couldn’t have been further away from a stereotypical Liverpool signing.
Klopp said as much after the 30-year-old was unveiled: “It is always a discussion we have. The owners really want 200 games at 20 years old. That is pretty difficult. I didn’t need any kind of convincing. I know that the best time for a football player is from 27 to 33 in a normal career. It depends on injuries, of course. That is why I did not need to change anything and he was on my list from the beginning.”
In his signing day video, a moment between the manager and the new midfielder was captured, with Klopp saying: “We really need you and your heart and your legs and your football ability and your football brain Your desire, we need it. We have a really good team, really good. Very offensive. Get ready to work.”
Endo did admirable jobs in cup matches but it wasn’t until Mac Allister’s injury that the Liverpool No. 3 got a run of games in the first-team. And he made quite the impression. He became the first Liverpool player since 2006 to start five matches in 13 days for the Reds.
He wasn’t just filling in for the injured World Cup winner though. Endo looked like the real deal for the Reds as the anchor in midfield.
In fact, Klopp singled him out for praise after the 2-0 win over Burnley on Boxing Day: “What a boy and what a player and very important.”
Endo netted an equaliser against Fulham, a game Liverpool went on to win, and he’s helped shore things up during a busy festive period.
Sparking the comeback with a wonderful strike 💥
— Liverpool FC (@LFC) December 3, 2023
Per WhoScored, with him in the starting XI, goals conceded per game by the Reds record drops from 1.08 to 0.43. Klopp’s men have conceded just five shots on target in their last four games matches and seven in the five matches Endo has played the full 90 minutes.
The Reds have kept clean sheets in four of the last seven Premier League matches that the Japan international has been in the starting XI and that is even more impressive when you consider the opposition they have come up against during this period.
His absence due to his participation in the Asia Cup is a huge blow for Liverpool and that shows how quickly he’s made himself a key cog to this squad. December is a hectic period of the campaign and this is often when teams slip up. Endo, however, has helped the Reds shore things up. They’re now top of the Premier League table.
By comparison, Arsenal fans are wondering how they can get the best out of Rice with the £100m-summer signing struggling against West Ham United and Fulham in back-to-back losses for the Gunners. Meanwhile, Caicedo doesn’t look to be the same player he was at Brighton and Chelsea are currently languishing in 10th position, 17 points behind Liverpool.
Klopp deserves a lot of credit for pushing through a move for Endo and really backing him. While the player deserves credit for taking his opportunity in the team with Mac Allister out of the picture.
It is a transfer that, once again, highlights exactly why fee doesn’t necessarily correlate with the quality of a player. Liverpool have a £16m signing outperforming multiple £ 100m-rated midfielders.
The eyebrows that were initially raised have been replaced by big smirks on the faces of everyone.