‘Top teams’ eyeing Efe Ambrose, says Neil Lennon

Efe Ambrose: Target for clubs in England and in Europe. Picture: SNS
Efe Ambrose: Target for clubs in England and in Europe. Picture: SNS
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NEIL Lennon has revealed that Celtic have been sounded out by leading clubs in England and Europe over the potential availability of defender Efe Ambrose.

Just six months after the Nigerian international defender joined the Scottish champions for £1.5 million from Israeli club FC Ashdod, he has attracted
significant attention for his
performances with both club and country.

Ambrose is under contract until July 2015 and Lennon is optimistic Celtic will not have to sell him as soon as the next transfer window this summer.

“Efe has been brilliant for us and there’s been a lot of interest in him,” said Lennon. “There is definite interest from top teams, not just in England but on the continent as well.

“There’s been nothing concrete so far, but I’ve been made aware of it, put it that way. I don’t think we will lose him in the summer, as he’s just in the door and there’s more he can add to his game. But he’s got a few admirers out there with his performances last season.”

Ambrose excelled for Celtic in the group stage of the Champions League before helping Nigeria win the Africa Cup of Nations for the first time since 1994.

He endured a torrid night last Tuesday when he played against Juventus in the first leg of Celtic’s Champions League last 16 tie just 48 hours after the Africa Cup of Nations final. But he responded positively with Celtic’s first goal in their 6-2 SPL win over Dundee United on Saturday.

“It was a great reaction from him,” added Lennon. “I just wish he’d scored like that last Tuesday night. It was more or less the same kind of position, but there you go.

“With the criticism, he’s pretty strong-minded. He’s not aloof, he’s very humble and was very disappointed after Tuesday night. He’s been a great signing for us. He has also brought the best out of Kelvin Wilson alongside him as well who has been really magnificent this season. At European level, they’ve made us better.”

Wilson’s display against Juventus appears to have pushed him into contention for a call-up to the England squad for next month’s World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro. England manager Roy Hodgson was at Celtic Park to assess striker Gary Hooper but it was 27-year-old Wilson who caught his eye.

“Roy was very complimentary of Kelvin after the game,” revealed Lennon. “He did himself no harm at all. I certainly think he’s worth looking at from England’s point of view.

“He’s a modern day centre-half who is composed on the ball. He’s improved aspects of his game like his heading and he’s become dominant. He also has that pace which is a huge asset at any level.

“Kelvin had a few things in his private life which unsettled him when he first came here. I also don’t think he realised how big the club was and the pressure which came with it.

“That’s natural because it can sometimes take a year to settle. But this season he’s been 
magnificent and very, very consistent. He’ll get better too 
because he’s only in his mid-20s and not at his peak yet. But he’s playing a really high level of football.”

Wilson, who joined Celtic from Nottingham Forest in the summer of 2011, admits he has barely considered the prospect of playing for his country.

“I’ve not really thought about England, to be honest,” said Wilson. “It’s nice to be spoken about in those terms, but we’ll see.

“If it comes along, it would be a great achievement. I was involved for the England under-20s once or twice, but that was about it.

“It’s maybe hard to get noticed by England when you’re playing in the Championship and they don’t take too many players from Scotland either. But we’ve had a great Champions League run this season.

“If you look at the teams I’ve played against, it’s been a good spell for me. Last season, there were personal issues that I had to deal with.

“I’d always played in the Midlands, I was never away from my family, I had a new-born daughter and I was backwards and forwards trying to sort it all out. I had lots on my mind last season, but this year I’ve only had to think about my football.”

Celtic will look to take another step towards their inevitable title success when they face St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park tonight.

They will again be without captain Scott Brown, who will see a specialist to assess the abductor muscle injury which forced him to miss Saturday’s win against United, as Lennon seeks a first SPL success of the campaign against the Perth club.

“Although we beat them in the League Cup, we lost there at the start of the season and then drew at home in the league,” said Lennon.

“They have goals in their team and are playing well, despite losing at the weekend. We play them on the back of a brilliant performance on Saturday and it will be nice to go there looking to replicate that.

“Our players were all down after losing to Juventus last week and I had to change their mindset. I said to them ‘look lads, you’re in the last 16 of 
the Champions League, you’ve done alright. You’re a good side actually and were just beaten by a very good side. There is no shame in that.’

“There was no disgrace in it. The fall-out and criticism here goes over the top because we need to realise where we are in the European game.

“The fact is they’ve shown to be the best team in the country and against a very good Dundee United team they showed their class which I was delighted about.”