Efe Ambrose has only featured twice for Celtic this season but don’t expect the out-of-favour defender to slam his Premiership-winning manager Brendan Rodgers.
The defender, who has been named as the Championship Player of the Month, describes the Parkhead boss as a father figure and is effusive in his praise for him as a man as well as a man manager. But it is at Hibernian, under his former Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, that Ambrose has been given his playing opportunities this term.
An own goal in a friendly against Barcelona, as well as a role in the team’s embarrassing European defeat by Lincoln Red Imps, led to Ambrose being castigated by Celtic fans and, while he had one more appearance, against Astana, he was soon surplus to requirements. Stagnating on the sidelines, he says, was disappointing but he insists that while he was shunned in a playing sense, Rodgers remained a positive influence.
“He didn’t ignore me when I wasn’t playing. He’s a great man, a father and a friend to everyone,” said Ambrose. “He treats everyone as family and everyone equal. It’s not just the players in the team that matter, it’s the squad that really matters to him.
“Every time people come to training they want to play and that helps the other players get to the form they have today. He gives credit to everyone, even if you’re not playing. If you need help he’s there to listen to you. He’s always there to teach you and to correct you. For me, he has been a very great man and a great help to me in my career. I have learned from him and the coaches. So, he has been great for me.
“But, coming here, I have been delighted, nothing more than to just show what I can do and what I have learned.
“The best way to show that is to play games, which I couldn’t get at Celtic but I can get here.”
Signed in February as emergency cover at the heart of the Leith defence, Ambrose may have missed out on Celtic’s treble-chasing season but he can still see out the season with a league title.
Hibernian face Queen of the South tomorrow aware that if they were to better Falkirk’s result against St Mirren in Paisley the Championship trophy, and automatic promotion, will be theirs.
“It is a possibility to achieve another medal in Scotland,” said the man who, despite enjoying glories at the very top of the Scottish game, is relishing the chance to add to his haul and help a club and a manager who have helped him back on his feet by gifting him game time and gratitude.
“A medal is a medal and for me to win another one is a great feeling. I never take anything for granted though.
“I have such passion for this game but winning the medal is not the most important thing. It is what it would mean to give something back to the club and the fans who have stood by Hibs for the past three years.
“They made history by winning the Scottish Cup last season but the most important thing for Hibs is to get out of this league and that is what comes to my mind.
“It would be nice to win this Championship and give something back to everybody who has put everything into this club. The only thing I can give back to them is to win this Championship and take them back into the Premiership where they deserve to be.”
It is a title the capital club were always expected to win and while they have topped the table throughout the majority of the season and looked fairly comfortable in their quest, it has been a struggle to ultimately get over the line.
Draws have delayed the inevitable, but Ambrose has defended his Leith colleagues. A veteran of campaigns in which the favourites tag weighs heavy on minds and bodies, he says he can use his experience of those situations to help Hibernian get the job done. Ideally, he says, that would be this weekend, if Falkirk slip up.
“I have been in this situation many times with Celtic and so has the gaffer. It’s not easy winning games because every team wants to beat Hibs,” he said.
“Everyone has big motivation to take the title away from us. So we need to stay focused and determined to clinch it. We want to win it at our own stadium, for the fans. Even if it’s not this week, we still have more home games to do it and give the fans a party.
“Yes, the atmosphere might be nervous because everyone wants us to do it. So that is the challenge for us – to do it for everyone in the stadium.”
A title triumph would please everyone at Hibernian but it would also justify Ambrose’s decision to take a step down the leagues to get his career back on course.
“It was a positive move. I always put in my mind that football is football wherever you go,” he added. “The most important thing is that you commit yourself to it. You cannot underestimate any team in football.
“When I came here I knew it was going to be different from Celtic. It is a different league but it is very competitive. Everybody wants to show themselves, everybody wants to play.” Ambrose knows that feeling. It motivates him every day.