Efe Ambrose today admitted rewarding the Hibs fans who have stood by the Easter Road club over the past three years will mean more to him than picking up a Championship winner’s medal.
The Nigerian defender is in line to add an unexpected gong to the collection he gathered at Celtic before heading for Edinburgh to be reunited with former boss Neil Lennon for the final few months of this season.
The Capital side stand on the brink of securing a return to the Premiership – perhaps a bit later than anticipated – but nevertheless Ambrose insisted that’s where Lennon’s side belong.
His displays, whether at centre-back on at right back, earned him the Ladbrokes Championship player of the month award for March, but victory over Queen of the South tomorrow will, should closest rivals Falkirk fail to beat a rejuvenated St Mirren, bring the obviously bigger prize of promotion.
Should he play in Hibs four remaining games of the season, Ambrose will have made a total of 12 appearances in the Championship, making a valuable contribution after being brought in on an emergency loan to cover a crisis in defence.
As such he’ll amply qualify to be given a league winner’s medal, but to the 28-year-old that will come nowhere near repaying those faithful supporters.
He said: “A medal is a medal and for me to win another one is a great feeling. It would be another one to add to my collection, although I never take anything for granted.
“I have such a passion for this game and 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. The most important thing, though, is for Hibs to get out of this league.
“It would be nice to win this Championship and give something back to everybody who has put everything into this club, to take them back into the Premiership where they deserve to be.”
Ambrose admitted to being rather taken aback to have picked up his own personal accolade after finding himself frozen out under new Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers since last summer.
He said: “It’s amazing, it’s just a surprise to me because I didn’t think I would be getting this award so soon because I just joined the club barely a month ago.
“It’s not just about Efe Ambrose, it’s about the team, appreciating the quality of the team and how the team has done. I believe this award is on behalf of the team and the rest of the players because without them I don’t think I could have won this award.”
It’s clear Ambrose has quickly become part of a close-knit Easter Road dressing room and the welcome he received, he admitted, had helped him make the move from Celtic without any difficulties.
He said: “I always looked on it as a positive move. In my mind football is football wherever you go. The most important thing is that you commit yourself to it. Everybody wants to be the best and for you to be the best you have to raise your level.
“When I came here I knew it was going to be different from Celtic. It’s a different league, but it is very competitive.
“Everybody wants to show themselves, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to be in the spotlight. It is very intense when you play in the Championship.
“In the Premiership teams try to play possession football and play to tactics. In the Championship you have to keep going for 90 minutes.
“My new team-mates have been very nice to me. They have shown me love and received me well.
“From the moment I came in I felt very comfortable and that is exactly what I had hoped for when I left Celtic. They are just like the guys in the Celtic dressing room and they have been very friendly and made me very welcome.
“I have played against some of them so it has been great, they all helped me settle very well.”
Lennon, of course, was the most familiar face, having signed Ambrose for Celtic from Israeli club Ashdod where he was a team-mate of current Hibs goalkeeper Ofir Marciano and he admitted he’s enjoying working under him again although, he insisted, he doesn’t have a bad word to say about Rodgers despite being frozen out of his plans.
He said: “This has been an opportunity for me to pay football again. Personally, I’m grateful to be here and to start playing again. When a club like this gives you an opportunity it is amazing and I am grateful to them.
“I also want to say thank you to Celtic and Brendan Rodgers because without playing he stood beside me and encouraged me. He didn’t ignore me when I wasn’t playing. He treats everyone as family and everyone as equal.
“It’s not just the players playing in the team that really matters, it’s the squad that really matters to him. He gives credit to everyone, even if you’re not playing. For the few games I played and when I wasn’t playing, in training, everything I have learned from him and the coaches.
“Coming here was just to get game time and he always wanted me to play. Lenny took me to Celtic, I played with him for two years, so I think he’s a coach who really knew my strengths, my ability and what I can do.
“So, for me to come and play under him was an opportunity to really show myself again in football. The best way to show that is to play games, which I couldn’t get at Celtic but I can get here.”
Hibs have, in the words of midfielder John McGinn, been crawling towards the title rather than racing over the line in recent weeks but, insisted Ambrose, it’s often not as easy as people would make out.
He said: “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. Everyone has big motivation to take the title away from us. So we need to stay focused and determined to clinch it.”
Even if Hibs don’t do so tomorrow, Ambrose was adamant that it’s just a matter of time, although he’d loved to win the title in front of the home fans at Easter Road. He said: “We want to win it at our own stadium. Even if it’s not this week, we still have more home games to do it and give the fans a party. The atmosphere tomorrow 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.”