Inside story of Lee Clark’s journey from Newcastle to the Sudan Premier League

As the UK prepares for the first heatwave of 2021, Lee Clark isn't too fazed about missing a rare bit of warm weather in his native Newcastle.

That's because the former Magpies and Fulham midfielder is having to adjust to scorching temperatures of his own in North Africa, having taken a job at Sudanese Premier League champions Al-Merreikh.

Clark was offered the role at the beginning of March and has already taken charge of three games, including one in the CAF Champions League.

"I'm loving it. The thought of coming back [to the UK] hasn't crossed my mind. I'm loving this experience," he exclusively told the Daily Star Sport.

"Al Ahly, a massive powerhouse of a club in Egypt, they get 80,000 every week at home. The crowds and the passion over here is amazing. The African nations are brilliant.

"I've read a report the UK is set for a heatwave of 24 or 25 degrees. If that was the temperature here, the players would be wearing overcoats. They were cold yesterday because of a little bit of wind and it was 33 [degrees].

"We're approaching 40 degrees in terms of weather so it's something we're getting used to. It's the first time I've ever coached in a cap as otherwise my head will get burnt! So we've got all that to deal with."

Clark made over 400 club appearances as a player before moving into management back in 2008.

He's since taken charge of Huddersfield, Birmingham City, Blackpool, Kilmarnock, Bury and Blyth Spartans.

But the chance of working abroad was a no-brainer for the 48-year-old, who has signed a 12-month rolling contract with Al-Merreikh.

"I've always had an ambition to work overseas, for a new experience, a new venture, a new culture," he continued.

"This offer came a couple of weeks ago. I looked into the club, saw it was in the top five clubs in Africa. When Covid-19 clears there'll be 43,000 fans here for the Champions League and anywhere between 25,000 to 43,000 in the league games. They're unbelievably supported.

"Competing in the African Champions League and the Arab Champions League is an opportunity to work at a higher level. I didn't know a lot about Sudan but I've met very good people who are very respectful and I'm really enjoying it."

Working abroad does bring challenges, however, including a communication barrier between himself and his new players.

Thankfully, there's one surprisingly handy similarity between the Arabic and Geordie languages.

"I'm trying to pick up some Arabic along the way. The easiest word is 'aye' which means 'yes' just like in Geordie! I'll never forget that one," Clark quipped.

"They [the players] don't all speak English but I've got a strength and conditioning coach who speaks brilliant English. Our analyst also studied in London, so they act as interpreters."

Despite a successful start to Clark's new adventure abroad, Al-Merreikh's 3-0 defeat to Simba SC in the CAF Champions League last week has been mired in controversy.

Clark's side have called for Simba to be axed from the competition after accusing the Tanzanian side of falsifying Covid-19 test results.

Eight of Al-Merreikh's side were forced to miss the crucial clash, despite returning negative tests just hours after their initial positive ones.

"Our legal department have submitted papers to FIFA to see what the outcome is. Before we flew out tor Tanzania on the Thursday, the whole squad had a Covid test and the whole group was negative," Clark explained.

"We then have a Covid test in the country we're playing, which is meant to be organised by CAF, the equivalent to UEFA. But that didn't happen so we had to go to a local hospital which took us all five to six hours.

"We didn't get the results back until 1pm on the Friday, three hours before the 4pm kick-off. Apparently eight of my players tested positive – six of those from the starting XI and two who would come off the bench no matter the results. So all eight players were crucial.

"The opposing manager was at our club a few months ago and knew all the best players in the club, so he knew which ones to target.

"We left after the game, those eight players had to stay in Tanzania for another test, and miraculously they were all negative again. So the only time they were positive was when we used the local hospital which only has one lab. With nobody being there from any authorities we feel we got unjustly punished.

"I had to put players in who were returning from injuries, players who had only had a couple of training sessions. We made a couple of errors and lost the game but the club have filed a complaint and through the legal team we'll see what the outcome is."

Clark's side still have two group games to go in the Champions League and are vying for the Sudanese title.

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