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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.

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Wataru Endo
Aston Villa's John McGinn in action with Liverpool's Wataru Endo on May 13, 2024, in Birmingham, England. (Carl Recine/REUTERS)

Read the full story on SportsLook - From Unheralded to Indispensable: For Wataru Endo, a Season to Remember with Liverpool

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.

Continue reading the full story on SportsLook.

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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.