Remi Savage will never forget his first taste of first-team training at Liverpool.
It was the day he found himself marking Mohamed Salah.
“It was the Friday before the first game of last season against Leeds,” the young defender says, smiling at the memory.
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“A few of us got the call to go up to the seniors. I ended up playing at left-back, so it was me against Salah. It was some challenge, let me tell you!"
Salah’s strengths, his speed, his movement and his relentless desire for scoring goals, are well known, but anyone who has seen the Egypt international up close will tell you he is much, much more than that.
Savage knows. He nods when Goal tells him that Trent Alexander-Arnold once said Salah was the strongest player he’d ever encountered.
“Yeah, Trent’s spot on!” he says. “You couldn’t get near him, he’s so, so strong.
“What a player he is. Ridiculously good. It was a great experience just to see someone like that up close, to see the level they are at. It motivates you to get better, work harder, to push yourself to your limit. That’s what those top players do.”
As it turned out, that ‘matchday minus one’ session against Salah at Melwood last September would be Savage’s one and only experience of senior football at Liverpool. Having spent 13 years at his boyhood club, the Aigburth-born defender has moved on this summer, joining Newcastle United on a three-year contract.
It was a big call to make. Liverpool offered him a deal, but Savage chose to leave. His senior prospects, he believes, will be greater on Tyneside, where he will start with the Under-23s but with a view to making a swift jump into the first-team training group.
“Liverpool is all I’ve ever known,” the 19-year-old says. “But while you always have that ambition that you’re going to make it to the first-team, you also have to be realistic and understand that there needs to be a Plan B as well.
“Not everyone has a smooth path, straight through the academy into the first-team. It’s a rollercoaster, with ups and downs, and you have to be prepared for change.”
Savage came through with the likes of Curtis Jones and Neco Williams at Liverpool, and regularly played alongside Rhys Williams at youth level.
“Seeing those players, my friends who I’ve grown up with, getting their opportunities at first-team level, it was amazing but also motivational,” he says. “It’s like ‘I want some of that’, you know?”
He puffs his cheeks out as he talks about Rhys Williams, who went from a loan spell with Kidderminster in the sixth tier of English football to the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s defence as Liverpool secured Champions League qualification last season. Williams and Nat Phillips’ stories, Savage says, serve as huge inspiration.
“Anything can happen, can’t it?” he smiles. “To see people like Rhys and Nat do what they did last season, in difficult circumstances, it gives you hope and inspiration.
“I believe in myself, that I can get to the level, and hopefully the opportunities will come.”
Savage was certainly highly thought of at Liverpool. A tall left-footer who can play at left-back as well as centre-back, he developed well at Kirkby, and was part of the FA Youth Cup winning squad of 2019.
He cites Barry Lewtas, the current U23s coach, as a big influence, and his eyes widen when he recalls his year learning under Reds legend Steven Gerrard at U18 level.
“It was crazy when Stevie came in,” he says. “I’ve always been a Liverpool fan, and he was my idol, so just being on a training pitch with him was surreal, you know?
“I remember one session with the 18s, and he ran the show, seriously! It was scary how good he was. I was at the back just standing there like ‘wow!’ It was like watching him in his prime for Liverpool, he was unreal.
“To grow up watching him, then to play under him, it was amazing. He was a boss coach, he knew exactly what he wanted from players, and everyone was desperate to perform for him. Everyone stepped up their level with Stevie!”
Savage does not hesitate when asked to name the defenders he looks up to.
“Rio Ferdinand and Virgil van Dijk,” he replies. “The two of them, unreal. May as well set the bar high, eh?
“But I look at people like Conor Coady, the journey he’s been on, and it’s so inspiring. It shows you it can be done.
“He’s a role model. He left Liverpool, went down the leagues and worked his way back up. Look at him now.”
Of himself, Savage says he is “a defender, first and foremost” and speaks with maturity about improving “all the basics” in his game.
“I want to become more dominant, read the game better, blocks, interceptions, the lot,” he says. “That’s the first aim at Newcastle, to improve as a player.”
And beyond that? Where would he like to be in 12 months’ time?
“Ideally I’d like to get some chances around the first-team environment, see what it’s like and see how I handle that,” he says. “And yeah, why not get a chance to play and make my senior debut? That’s the aim, after all.”
He adds: “I can’t wait to get started. It’s daunting because I’ve only known Liverpool, but it’s exciting as well.
“New city, new team, a massive club in Newcastle. I just want to get up there now and get going.”