Efe Ambrose explained how he has worked hard to become a more reliable centre-back by reducing the amount of risks he is taking.
Since he first arrived in Scotland with Celtic six years ago, the Hibs defender has earned a reputation for being slightly on the kamikaze side. While his quality has never been in doubt, Ambrose makes no secret of the fact his natural instinct is to drive out of defence when he picks up possession, regardless of what dangers lurk from oppositions strikers.
After a goal-costing lapse against Ross County in the Betfred Cup early in the campaign, Neil Lennon ordered the Nigerian to cut out the mistakes and has been drilling him relentlessly on the importance of picking his moments when it comes to dribbling from the back. Ambrose has taken his manager’s advice on board and is currently operating at a level whereby Lennon, who previously signed him for Celtic in 2012, last week suggested that he was playing as well as he’s ever seen him.
“I just keep working hard, keep trying to improve myself and make sure I keep my discipline and do what the gaffer asks me to do, play it simple and keep my head cool,” Ambrose told the Evening News. “Driving from the back is one of my good assets. It is my natural instinct to want to drive out of defence, but sometimes you need to use your head rather than your feet. Sometimes when you use your feet and your head is not working together with your feet, you can do too many things and you end up losing the ball.
“As a defender, sometimes it is more important just to keep it simple rather than take risks. The manager has tried to take that risky side out of my game, which has really helped me. He wants me to do the basic thing, which is to just defend. Once you have the opportunity to drive out of defence, that is fine. But if there is not that opportunity, I just need to keep it simple.
“Other teams sometimes want you to commit yourself so they can counter-attack us, so I have to think about when to move forward and how best to do it in a way to help the team instead of putting them at a disadvantage. I’ve realised there are many things I need to do better in my game since I came to Hibs and I’ve really worked hard on that. It has really helped me.”
Although he has been reined in to some extent, Ambrose insists he will never lose his penchant for stepping out with the ball. “I am still allowed to drive out if there is a good chance to do it,” he laughed.
“Teams know I can do it so they always put someone in front of me to try and stop me. But all the defenders here are encouraged to step out when there is a chance.
“It gives our midfield a bit extra edge and freedom if a defender like myself is driving out because it means a midfielder will have to come and close me down and it should give the others a bit extra space. It helps the team but the key thing is to get the balance right between knowing when to drive forward and when to keep it simple. Sometimes you need to keep your composure and keep the game calm but it helps that I have midfielders like Marv, Milly and Steven Whittaker who can drop back in and cover for me when I drive on. That helps keep the balance.”
Ambrose looked like he might be on his way out of Hibs on transfer deadline day at the end of August when Lennon revealed a Turkish club were keen on him. The 30-year-old insists he is totally content at Easter Road.
“I don’t want to talk about speculation,” he said. “The most important thing is that I’m happy here, I’m comfortable here and I’m enjoying my football. The manager here brought me to Scotland and I really enjoy playing under him. The lads here are very good. It is important to feel welcome when you come to your work.
“There’s not much more you can ask for than a place like this. I’ve really enjoyed it here and I’ve never once thought of leaving. When the time comes, you eventually have to leave – that’s football – but for now I’m just concentrating on being a Hibs player and helping the club achieve their ambitions and also achieve my own objectives, which is to win trophies and to be one of the best players in the league.
“The most important thing for me in life is to have a challenge and since I’ve been here I’ve had that.
“I want to compete in one of the top teams and try to win things, and the manager here wants to win trophies and be the best in everything he does. When you have that sort of philosophy around you and work in that kind of environment, it helps give you a good mindset and makes you improve.”