EFE Ambrose gained his reward for a string of good performances in the heart of the Celtic defence when the club handed him a new four-year contract that will keep him at Parkhead until 2017.
The 24-year-old Nigerian international could not hide his delight, and forecast that his developing partnership with Dutch defender Virgil Van Dijk will only get better.
“I’ve loved my time at Celtic,” said Ambrose. “It’s been incredible and it was an easy decision to make.
“It all depended on me and I love it here. There was no doubt in my mind – I just went for it.
“Coming to Celtic has changed everything for me. It’s been a dream move for me and I never dreamt I’d be at a club like this.
“Celtic gave me the opportunity to play at the highest level with one of the biggest clubs in Europe. Now I want to pay them back.
“Signing this contract is one of the ways to do that. I want to give something back to Celtic.
“Myself and Virgil can be a good partnership if we stay together for a long time. You never know what happens in football.
“Players come and go, but we are both here for a long time [and] I think we can have good consistency and be a good partnership.
“We have played a couple of games together and it feels like we have played together for years.”
Ambrose was speaking after Celtic announced that, as part of the Stand Out for Guide Dogs events to promote Guide Dogs Week, both team captains and the referee at today’s match against Motherwell at Celtic Park will be led on to the pitch by ‘seeing’ dogs – who will then be left to guide the referee and his assistants, of course.
Ambrose, meanwhile, has set himself only one ambition – to improve: “I just want to get better as a player. I want to improve from last season – individually and as a team player.
“I have always been confident in my game, but the manager, the coaching staff and players have given me more. I could not have done it without them. They have made me a better player.”
The fans rallying behind him after his blunders cost Celtic dear against Juventus in last season’s Champions League group-of-16 match was a crucial moment.
“The fans have always been a motivation,” said Ambrose, “for me individually and for the team. If you make mistakes they try to back you and bring you up. They are so important for the team – they really help. Juventus was hard. Sometimes these things
happen and it was me. You get bad days in football. The most important thing is how you stand up and fight back.”
Ambrose happily backed a colleague who made a big mistake in midweek, captain Scott Brown: “We have been behind Scott this week. He is a leader and our captain. He talks to us and
motivates us. He has willpower and pulls the team along. He pulls us together and we speak as one.”
Celtic manager Neil Lennon was delighted with Ambrose’s eagerness to stay: “He is still a young player – he is only 24 – but he has great experience of playing at international level.
“In the Champions League last year, bar the Juventus game at home, he was outstanding in the campaign and he has carried that on into the news season.
“Playing the British style of play is a little bit different, but his performances have been very good and he has already got a good partnership with Virgil Van Dijk.”
Lennon then went on to expound part of his managerial philosophy – Celtic will still buy young players, improve them and sell them on a profit, but the manager wants a “core” of players to work with him over the years.
Given that he has just handed Ambrose a contract extension and, as we report on the back page, he wants to do the same for Giorgios Samaras, with hints that Joe Ledley will follow suit, it is clear that the core group includes these three and captain Scott Brown, plus goalkeeper Fraser Forster and others.
“I think it’s important to have a core of players to provide continuity,” said Lennon. “Players will come and go but there are others who are happy here, settled, who know the club and the game here and know the manager’s methods. They can integrate the new boys in very quickly to the way we like to play.
“I like having them here as well. Alex Ferguson had his group of players,
Arsene Wenger has his because it’s always important to have a core, particularly at the bigger clubs, where the onus is on you to succeed.”