EFE Ambrose seldom fails to look on the bright side of life. Whatever tribulations the big Celtic defender has faced in football, a smile is never far from his face.
Two weeks ago, Ambrose experienced one of the biggest disappointments of his professional career so far when he was a member of the Nigeria side which failed to qualify for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals. The shock elimination of the holders, who lost out to South Africa and Congo, has been the cause of much anguish and recriminations in Ambrose’s homeland.
But, while Nigeria’s absence from the tournament in Equatorial Guinea next month is undoubtedly a blot on the 26-year-old’s CV, he is determined to turn it into an opportunity to revitalise his fortunes at club level.
Ambrose has lost his status as a first-choice central defender at Celtic this season to Jason Denayer but is back in the team due to the Belgian teenager’s ankle injury. Had Ambrose been heading to the Africa Cup of Nations finals, he would have been ruled out of a handful of Celtic matches, including the much-anticipated League Cup semi-final against Rangers on 1 February.
“With so many big games for Celtic in January and February, maybe it’s a bonus for me to be here then,” he said. “I am not usually around so I will enjoy the moment because Celtic pay me – international football is a bonus. Nigeria didn’t qualify for the African Nations Cup so now I have Celtic to concentrate and work on. I’m back to what I know best – to train hard, to be at my best every time.
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“Right now all I have is Celtic and I need to give my best to make sure we get through in every competition and deal with every game in front of us. If I can help in any way, I will do my best. It’s up to the gaffer who should play. Jason, Virgil van Dijk, Charlie Mulgrew, Adam Matthews and myself are top- class defenders and we all know what it means to represent Celtic and be on the pitch, so it’s up to the gaffer. It doesn’t matter who plays, we’re a team and a unit and we stand by each other.
“On a personal level, it was disappointing to get knocked out of the Africa Cup of Nations but sometimes it happens. It’s how you bounce back that matters. We’ve forgotten about it already and we’re looking to what the future holds.
“It’s disappointing that we’re not going to defend the trophy we won. Nobody could ever have imagined it because I believe we have the best team in Africa and we’re not going. But that is football. You just have to believe and bounce back and keep working hard and make sure we get there the next time.
“When things are going well nobody asks questions because they are applauding you, but when you lose people look for reasons. We failed them and we can’t do anything other than bounce back. I believe we will make them smile again in the future.”
Ambrose is expected to retain his place in the Celtic side for tonight’s re-arranged Premiership fixture at home to Partick Thistle. The Jags were crushed 6-0 on their previous visit to Celtic Park five weeks ago in the League Cup with John Guidetti grabbing a hat-trick. “Right now, John has the magic boots,” said Ambrose of the on-loan Manchester City player. “When you have a striker who is blessed with goals in his feet, then it’s a plus for the team. I would say Gary Hooper is the best striker I have played with at Celtic, but Guidetti is doing great. If he stays here then he can fill Hooper’s shoes.
“I can’t say it will be 6-0 for us again against Partick Thistle but the most important thing is to go into the game in the right frame of mind. The gaffer wants us to play a certain way and we are still developing, still improving. We’re not there yet. Having been beaten 6-0 the last time, Partick will come with a gameplan so it will be a different ball game. We know teams come to Celtic Park and like to sit in and try and score on the counter or with a set-piece. It won’t be an easy game but if we can cope with those areas then I think we will walk out on top.
“You get games where you take all your chances and hopefully that will be the case here. It could be more than six, it could be less. You just never know in football.”
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