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From Unheralded to Indispensable: For Wataru Endo, a Season to Remember with Liverpool

After arriving as an under-the-radar signing, Wataru Endo played a key role for Liverpool in its four high-level competitions in the 2023-24 campaign.

GLASGOW ― For a massive English Premier League club, a £16 million GBP (about ¥3.2 billion JPY) signing of a 30-year-old defensive midfielder is viewed with a shrug of the shoulders. One player who reversed this trend during the 2023-24 season was Wataru Endo.

The Japan national team captain joined Liverpool FC boss Jurgen Klopp's squad after four years plying his trade for VfB Stuttgart in the German Bundesliga.

In a league well known for clubs spending upwards of £80 million (roughly ¥16 billion) on players regarded as world stars, players who arrive with less hype surrounding them are often not spoken about as they aren't expected to play much.

Indeed, Endo defied this notion in his first campaign with Liverpool.

Despite his experience playing at a high level, the expectation was that Endo would be nothing more than a squad player for Liverpool ― filling in when more illustrious teammates, such as Argentinian World Cup winner Alexis Mac Allister, were being given a rest.

While outside observers may have held this opinion, Endo clearly won the trust of Klopp. He ended up featuring 43 times (34 starts) for Liverpool as it competed in the Premier League, EFL Cup, FA Cup and Europa League.

With Liverpool being one of the huge clubs in England and Europe as a whole, it is expected to contend in every competition. It is a high-pressure environment for those who wear the jersey.

Wataru Endo
Liverpool's Wataru Endo and West Ham United's Lucas Paqueta are too close for comfort during a Premier League match at London Stadium on April 29. (David Klein/REUTERS)

Wataru Endo Goes from Substitute to Essential

In the fledgling 2023-24 Premier League season, Endo had to make do with making a contribution from the substitute's bench. His first six league appearances for his new club included five as a substitute.

At this stage of the campaign, Endo was getting more minutes in the EFL Cup and Europa League.

Indeed, it was an impressive showing against Toulouse in a Europa League fixture on October 26, 2023, which perhaps convinced Klopp to trust his Japanese midfielder with more playing time.

After witnessing Endo dominate the midfield against the French club, Klopp singled him out for some praise: "I would like to mention Wataru Endo. I'm not sure people think that's spectacular or whatever, but the forward passes he played tonight were absolutely incredible," the manager said, according to Liverpool fan blog thisisanfield.com.

Klopp continued, "And how often he broke lines with one touch, that was absolutely insane. Then he scores a wonderful goal, which helps each player. So that's really cool." 

After this Endo was handed his second league start for Liverpool on November 12, 2023, against Brentford. From here he would feature in every league match until the end of the season ― the only exceptions being when he was on Asia Cup duty with Japan in Qatar during January and early February 2024.

Wataru Endo
Liverpool's Wataru Endo with manager Juergen Klopp after being substituted out of a Europa League quarterfinal first-leg match against Atalanta at Anfield on April 11 in Liverpool, England. (Molly Darlington/REUTERS)

Drawing Praise from the English Sporting Press

As the season progressed, Endo was beginning to be noticed by the media who cover English football.

Although the campaign would end with Liverpool lifting just the one trophy ― the EFL Cup ― it was at one stage in contention to win the Premier League and was among the favorites to contend for FA Cup and Europa League glory.

While it didn't work out for the team in terms of lifting more trophies ― Liverpool finished third in the Premier League and exited the FA Cup and Europa League at the quarterfinal stage ― Endo's consistent level of performance was something that stuck out. By the closing stretch of the season, it had been announced that Klopp would be stepping down as manager at season's end.

To his credit, Endo continued to give his all for the manager who had brought him to Anfield.

Writing in a piece published in The Guardian newspaper on January 1, 2024, Ben McAleer remarked on Endo's durability during a punishing run of late December fixtures.

"In a hectic run of matches, five in the space of 13 days across the Europa League, Premier League and EFL Cup, Endo is the only player to have started all five games, becoming the first Liverpool player at this stage of the season to do so since 2005-06," McAleer pointed out to readers.

Wataru Endo
Liverpool's Wataru Endo prepares for a Premier League match against Fulton on April 21 in London. (Andrew Boyers/ACTION IMAGES/via REUTERS)

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Additional Observations on Wataru Endo

Henry Flynn, writing for Forbes.com on February 29, 2024, noted Endo's ability to help players around him flourish.

"For what Klopp needs ― hard running, intercepting play and holding onto the ball he's been a real find. It's been less about him and more about enabling surrounding teammates. In domestic competitions, Liverpool hasn't lost a game in which Endo has started, scoring more and conceding fewer on average when he features," Flynn's article informed.

A Chris Bascombe article in The Telegraph newspaper on April 5, 2024, supported the observation of Endo's ability to help his teammates.

Bascombe specifically focused on Endo's midfield partnership with Mac Allister: "As Endo was adapting to Klopp's system and Mac Allister was the defensive No 6, the Argentine registered no goals, one assist and five shots in his first 11 Premier League games."

Bascombe continued, "Since Endo established himself, Mac Allister has four goals, four assists and 24 shots, his creative talent unleashed in a perfectly balanced midfield."

Wataru Endo
Liverpool's Wataru Endo in action with Wolverhampton's Jean-Ricner Bellegarde on May 19 at Anfield in Liverpool, England. (Phil Noble/REUTERS)

Winning Over the Liverpool Fans

Along with being praised by his manager and the media, Endo also drew appreciative comments from Liverpool fans during the season.

Writing for thisisanfield.com David Lynch pointed out Endo's contributions during a December EFL Cup quarterfinal win over West Ham.

"Endo made more recoveries than any other player (nine), winning four out of six ground duels and completing 96 percent of his passes," Lynch observed. "That is worthy of praise."

Another measure comes from moving away from statistics and performances. Here, Endo also shone, ending up having his own chant sung by Liverpool fans. Perhaps this is the best way to underline how the supporters grew to appreciate him over the season.

A piece written by Joanna Durkan for thisisanfield.com informs that Endo's chant is to the tune of ABBA hit Voulez-Vous

"He's Wataru, Endo, He is Japanese, Endo, He wears number three, Endo, And he's going to win the league," are the lyrics, according to Durkan's fun article.

Wataru Endo
Wataru Endo began his pro career with the J.League's Shonan Bellmare in 2010. (Carl Recine/REUTERS)

What's Coming Next for Endo?

From an inauspicious start where fans and media had to be convinced of his worth to the team, to having his contributions appreciated and a terrace chant made up about him, Endo professionally went about his work and enhanced his footballing reputation in the 2023-24 season.

With Klopp moving on and new manager Arne Slot in place, Endo will need to prove himself to the new man in charge. There has already been speculation that Liverpool is looking to sign another marquee defensive midfielder for big money. 

That is normally the case at the big clubs, but Endo's performances during the past season served to remind that players signed for smaller transfer fees can also make an important impact. Occasionally, unheralded arrivals become crucial as a long season plays out.

If Endo does need to win over his new manager, it will be nothing new for him. And if Liverpool decides to sell him, then another club will benefit from his talents.

In summing up Endo's work for Liverpool last season it is perhaps best to end with what Klopp said about the player after a 2-0 win over Burnley on December 26, 2023.

According to The Guardian, Klopp remarked, "What a boy, what a player and very important."

Wataru Endo
Wataru Endo made an impact in his first season with Liverpool. (Andrew Boyers/ACTION IMAGES/via REUTERS)

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Author: Colin Morrison

Morrison is a freelance sportswriter. Find his stories on SportsLook. Writing since 2016, his byline currently appears on FightsATW.com where he covers boxing. Morrison has previously written for NYFights.com and spitballingpod.com. His main areas of interest are boxing, soccer, golf and rugby union. Morrison is from Scotland and can be found on X (formerly Twitter) @Morrie1981.

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