He has taken a jump out of his comfort zone – but former Newcastle United and Kilmarnock man Lee Clark is loving life in Sudan.
The Newcastle United hero is known in Ayrshire for his year-long stint at Killie between February 2016 and 2017. His latest management gig is with Sudanese side Al-Merrikh SC, who have won the last two titles in Sudan’s top flight and also compete in the African and Arabic versions of the Champions League.
With a demanding fanbase, the former Newcastle United and Kilmarnock figure has told NTOF of how he’s taken to his new challenge: “I was looking for an opportunity abroad. It’s always been something I have wanted to do since I got into coaching, it’s always been my plan.
“I had an opportunity in Europe a few years ago but couldn’t take it due to my father’s ill health. I didn’t want to be overseas then but this one came up. I looked at the club, what it’s about. They compete in the Champions League and when Covid-19 restrictions are away, it’s 43,000 fans full-house.
“The fans are very, very passionate and it’s one of the top five clubs in Africa. I thought, why not? It’s a different experience and a different culture, I am really enjoying it. I am loving it, I am back on the grass coaching.
“I have a passion for football. Our domestic aim is to win the league and we have two difficult games left in the Champions League. We’ll try and win them and see what happens. We’ve got the Arab Champions League to compete in too so there’s lots of potential excitement so we are positive.”
While at Kilmarnock, Clark did plenty of wheeling and dealing, particularly in the loan market. Celtic defender Kristoffer Ajer, Newcastle United’s Sean Longstaff and Swansea City’s Toon loanee Freddie Woodman were all brought to the club.
Jordan Jones was signed also while academy graduate Greg Taylor was handed his senior debut by Clark, going on to make Killie seven-figures last season as he moved to Celtic. Those players are worth millions, Clark proud of his recruitment.
He said: “I gave Greg Taylor his chance and the rest is history. He’s become a full international, he’s playing for Celtic and that proved to be the right thing to do. It allowed me to see him in first-team football. He had the ability and mentality.
“I brought Jordan Jones in for free and he got his big move to Rangers. There were some successes, there were some that weren’t. There were a lot of loans and some of them have proven since then that they are top players.
“Some of them ruffled a few feathers, especially the Freddie Woodman one. We had Jamie MacDonald who had been in Scotland for a long time but it doesn’t matter the situation. If you have a chance to make your team better, you should never turn it down.
“Woodman was a World Cup U20s winner, he’s doing so well for Swansea City now, and lots of Premier League clubs are after him. He improved the goalkeeping department, whereas Sean Longstaff and Kristoffer Ajer were instrumental.
“We did some great deals. You could be pushing that £100 million mark (for the players mentioned) without a doubt. We had a high-success rate, you won’t get 100% in the market we are in. There were plenty of positives.”
Kilmarnock are currently fighting for Scottish Premiership survival under Clark’s former Newcastle United and Norwich City colleague Tommy Wright, the former Rugby Park boss backing the current one for success.
Clark explained: “I think Tommy inherited a far better squad than the one I did. The 4-1 result against Motherwell will give them so much confidence. Having Tommy as the manager, who is a former colleague of mine, there’s a strong allegiance for me there.
“They couldn’t have picked a better manager. He’s taken St Johnstone out of a similar position a couple of times but he also built teams that became success, regularly in the top six. He will get the results in the split that means they won’t need to worry about relegation.”
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