It is not a common sight in football, but Wataru Endo has explained why he chooses to wear a gumshield during matches.
The Japan captain arrived from Stuttgart during the summer in a deal worth around £16.25 million, becoming the third of four midfield arrivals across the window.
Endo was beginning to establish himself more regularly on Jurgen Klopp‘s teamsheets before heading off to the Asian Cup, but one unusual quirk fans may have noticed is that the 30-year-old wears a mouthguard during games.
While more typically associated with the likes of rugby, hockey and boxing, the 30-year-old explained in his book, Duel, why he opts for the added protection during football.
“It’s become so important to me that I can say that I’m afraid to play soccer without it,” the Japanese international revealed.
“I first started using it when I met a dentist named Jun Miyagawa who lives in Germany. Mr. Miyagawa explained to me that: ‘Even monkeys have beautiful teeth, it’s only humans who get their teeth loose,’ and that ‘Resetting the jaw joint to its proper position will improve both the mind and body.’
“The most important point of a mouthpiece is to protect your teeth. Soccer is a contact sport, and although it is not as common as rugby or American football, it is possible for teeth to break due to impact, it happens often. My first goal was to prevent that.
“I no longer have the fear of breaking my teeth, I started to be able to hit ‘1 vs. 1’ with all my might.
“In addition, by continuing to be conscious of the position of my jaw it allows me to relax. It’s now an absolutely indispensable tool when I’m on the pitch.”
It seems the gumshield is a source of extra comfort for the midfielder, who has used it for the past three seasons since the conversation with his dentist took place.
Having initially struggled for game time, Endo is now growing into his role at Anfield and could become a vital part of the rotation that will need to take place later in the season if the team are to remain competitive on all fronts.
That progress has been briefly halted, however, with the No. 3 set to miss up to eight games due to his involvement in the Asian Cup with Japan.
Liverpool will be hopeful he returns from the tournament fit and healthy, ahead of a gruelling final few months of the season in which the side will hopefully be chasing down the league title and other silverware.