IN the world of Efe Ambrose, holidays are for wimps.
“I really don’t like time off, it gets me down,” says the Celtic defender. Looking at his schedule for the coming weeks and months, Ambrose shouldn’t have any reason to frown.
Once Celtic wrap up their Scottish Premiership campaign on 11 May, Ambrose will turn his attention to international duty with Nigeria. A friendly against Scotland in London on 28 May will be followed by the African champions’ pre-World Cup Finals training camp in the USA where they have further challenge matches against Greece and the Americans.
Nigeria will travel to Brazil on 8 June where they are in Group D of the tournament alongside Argentina, Bosnia and Iran. Depending on how far his national team progresses in the finals, Ambrose will have little time to draw breath before rejoining Celtic to prepare for their Champions League qualifying campaign which will begin on
5 or 16 July.
All of which suits the 25-year-old just fine. Celtic manager Neil Lennon has stated his willingness to allow some of his players time off before the end of the domestic season, now that the Premiership title has been secured, but Ambrose has no interest in downing tools. Any of Celtic’s medical staff who try to advise him otherwise will also be wasting their breath.
“I know the manager has spoken about giving players a break,” said Ambrose. “But we don’t have a game next weekend because we are out of the Scottish Cup, so that will be enough of a break for me.
“The medical team don’t know my body like I do. I speak for my body and it’s okay. Of course they will say I need a rest, but if you give me a rest it gets me down and it is harder to lift myself again. So I like to keep myself going. Even when I’m back home in Nigeria, I still play football all the time. I get up at 6am in the morning and play for a couple of hours with my friends. Sometimes we do it again in the evening, sometimes in matches for charity there. It is pleasure, not work. I play in midfield in those games, so I don’t have to tackle all the time!
“When I wake up every morning, I just want to get a shower then get down to the training pitch and play football. That has always been my mindset so I’ve never thought of rest.
“When I do have a day off and I wake up in the morning I feel sad. Maybe I will watch football on television instead because that is still part of my job – if you are not playing then you can watch.
“My wife knew what I was like when we married. But, when I go home after training every day, I do nothing but spend time with my family.”
The Craven Cottage fixture between Nigeria and Scotland next month has been an inevitable source of good-natured conversation in the Celtic dressing room between Ambrose and several of his team-mates.
“There has been a bit of chat with the Scotland boys,” he said with a smile. “Sometimes you play against your club team-mates in international football and it’s fun. I can shake hands with all my Celtic team-mates after the game, but during the game? No way. You have to enjoy yourself in football but on the day the best team will win and that will be Nigeria! The Scotland game is exciting for me because it’s a good game to prepare for the World Cup against a team which is one of the best around just now. Scotland have been playing very well in their recent games.
“I’ve been watching them and the motivation they have, along with the quality of players, is brilliant. The team work is there now and they have a better team than they used to have. It is exciting that the World Cup is coming up, but right now I’m trying not to think about it because the season is still going with Celtic. Only after 11 May, when I put away the green and white of Celtic and pull on the green and white of Nigeria will it be on
“There is no player who is an automatic pick for Nigeria. You have to fight for your jersey and I want to play in every game for Celtic between now and the end of the season to try and stay at my best.
“It is also an important time for Celtic because our aim now is to look to play in the Champions League again next season. The qualifiers won’t be easy and some of us who are playing in the World Cup won’t be back for the start of pre-season. So we have to start our preparations now. We were not happy with the group stage campaign this season and we need to make sure we improve. We have some new players now and are better than we were during the last Champions League campaign.”