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Ambrose: Lennon should be manager of year despite double cup exits

Efe Ambrose believes Neil Lennon should be named Scotland's manager of the year for losing only one game en route to winning the SPFL Premiership.

Efe Ambrose says he becomes depressed when he doesn't play football. Picture: SNS
Efe Ambrose says he becomes depressed when he doesn't play football. Picture: SNS

The Celtic defender stressed that the manager who wins the league need not be automatically acclaimed as the country's manager of the year, but he argued that his side's consistency under Lennon meant he would deserve the award.

Celtic's early exits from the League Cup and the Scottish Cup and their bleak Champions League campaign have left Lennon behind Aberdeen's Derek McInnes and Motherwell's Stuart McCall on the list of favourites for the managerial awards. Last season, Lennon was named Scottish Football Writers Association manager of the year but the PFA Scotland award, voted on by players and coaches, went to then Queen of the South manager Allan Johnston and McCall won the Clydesdale Bank's SPL award.

Ambrose is intelligent and opinionated, so it was not a fait accompli that he would openly endorse his own manager's credentials for the season, but he did so when asked at a media conference at Parkhead yesterday.

"I cannot speak for everyone but, for me, he deserves to win it. He didn't win [two of the three awards] last year but this season we have lost only one game in the league and we have been the best team. The manager and the player of the year do not have to come from the champions - that doesn't matter. Sometimes people from other teams can do something great and it's all about opinion. People may say Celtic is the biggest club and has the biggest budget and we should win the title but it's not that easy. Football is different because anything can happen so you need to do everything possible to win. It's not easy to win games because the other teams are good but we have been better."

Ambrose's playing schedule hardly allows for a chink of light. Celtic are at Dundee United tomorrow lunchtime and then have five remaining Premiership fixtures. He intends to play in all of them before leaving to prepare for Nigeria's assault on the World Cup finals in Brazil. Preparation for those will include a friendly against Scotland at Craven Cottage, where he could come up against Celtic team-mates Scott Brown, Leigh Griffiths, Charlie Mulgrew and James Forrest. After competing in Brazil, Ambrose plans no more than two weeks off, and perhaps only one, before returning for the opening Champions League qualifying tie on July 15/16. It seems an absurdly demanding set of commitments for the 25-year-old, but the idea of an extended rest period depresses him.

"I don't like to have time off. Even when I'm off, I still play football in Nigeria. I know the manager [Lennon] has spoken about giving players a break between now and the end of the season but we don't have a game next weekend so that will be an opportunity to get three or four days off. That will be enough of a break for me. I don't really like being off because it gets me down. I like to keep working every day. I enjoy playing football. When I wake up in the morning I just want to get a shower and get down to the training pitch and play football. That has always been my mindset; I've never thought of rest."

Quite what Celtic and Nigeria's medical teams and sports scientists make of Ambrose's Stakhanovite attitude is unclear, but he is unconcerned by that. "The medical team don't know my body like I do. I speak for my body and it's okay. Of course they will say I need a rest but if you give me a rest it gets me down and it's harder to lift myself again so I like to keep myself going.

"In Nigeria, I get up at six o'clock in the morning to play. I play with my friends and sometimes I play in charity matches. That is what I enjoy. Sometimes we will play for two hours - and then do it again in the evening. But that is pleasure, not work. In these matches at home I play in midfield: I never play in defence because then I would have to tackle!

"I want to play in every game between now and the end of the season. Our aim is to improve both individually and as a squad because we want to play in the Champions League group stage again. The qualifiers won't be easy and some of us who are playing in the World Cup won't be here for pre-season; now is the time to start putting things together.

"We all want to be involved in the group stages so we really need to step up because collectively we weren't happy with the way our last campaign worked out. As a team now we are better than when we were during the European campaign because some players were new then. Now we have that understanding."

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