Efe Ambrose still has much to offer promotion-chasing Derby County

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Mark Runnacles/Getty Images
The Nigeria international has arrived in the Championship in time to aid the Rams’ promotion push
Efe Ambrose’s six-year stay in Scottish football came to an end last month as he exercised a clause in his Hibernian contract and left the club after just under two years in Edinburgh.

After a brief trial at Derby County, he was offered a short-term contract with the Rams, and will aid Frank Lampard’s side over the coming months as they look to secure a return to the Premier League.

Derby are one of the biggest clubs in the Championship, but they’ve grown accustomed to heartbreak in recent years as their attempts to make it back to the top tier for the first time in a decade have been thwarted.

After the failures of Gary Rowett, Steve McClaren, Nigel Pearson, Paul Clement and Nigel Clough—among others—rookie Lampard was introduced as the club’s hierarchy sought a new approach in their bid to escape the division.

To date, things have been going fairly well for the Rams, even if there is still a sense that Lampard is learning on the job.

Frank Lampard Derby County Chelsea Carabao Cup 31102018

After 32 matches, they sit seventh, two behind sixth-placed Bristol City in the final playoff spot, and 13 behind second-placed Sheffield United.

Young attackers Harry Wilson and Mason Mount are two of the league’s more exciting players, with the latter being invited to spend time with the England squad in 2018.

Anglo-Nigerian-Canadian centre-back Fikayo Tomori—on loan from Chelsea—is a talented centre-back, composed in possession and an intelligent reader of the game.

Their precocious abilities are backed up by old-timers such as Craig Forsyth, Bradley Johnson, Richard Keogh, Curtis Davies, Joe Ledley, Tom Huddlestone and Craig Bryson, many of whom have already tasted life at the top table.

Lampard bolstered his defensive options—and his side’s experience—with the addition of Ashley Cole on a free transfer from Los Angeles Galaxy, and the left-back promptly netted his first ever FA Cup goal in the 2-1 defeat by Brighton & Hove Albion last weekend.

Ashley Cole, LA Galaxy

Compared to 38-year-old Cole, Ambrose is veritably inexperienced, although at 30—and with several Champions League campaigns behind him—he represents another calm, composed head in this seasoned squad.

Ostensibly, he’ll arrive as cover in the heart of the backline, principally as a replacement for Davies, who revealed in December that his season was “pretty much” over after he ruptured his Achilles tendon.

However, as Super Eagles fans will attest, Ambrose offers versatility as well as rugged defensive attributes.

The majority of his half-century of Nigeria caps were won on the right side of the defence, while earlier in his career, he played in front of the backline.

His athleticism and stature—he’s 6’3—should help him adapt to life in the frenetic Championship, even if he will have to get up to speed with the pace and the intensity of the division.

Ambrose is unlikely to be fazed.

During his career to date, he’s squared up against some of the world’s top players, and was memorably part of the Celtic team that defeated a Barcelona side containing Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Alexis Sanchez and Xavi in the Champions League in 2012.

He was an Africa Cup of Nations winner with Nigeria in 2013, and 18 months later, was a key figure in the Super Eagles side that reached the Last 16 at the 2014 World Cup.

Ambrose has certainly experienced a great deal in the game, although his time at Celtic ended in acrimonious circumstances, and it’s maybe telling that he’s been shunned by managers such as Neil Lennon, Brendan Rodgers and, latterly, Gernot Rohr.

Motivation is unlikely to be an issue in England, particularly considering the potential prize of the Premier League—and maybe a new contract—and the prospect of playing under a legend like Lampard.Efe Ambrose, John Obi Mikel, Vincent Enyeama of Nigeria

“It’s a dream to play down in England, so getting the opportunity to play here is amazing,” Ambrose told Rams TV.

“I had other offers from abroad so when my agent called me and said Derby were interested and they had put an offer to us, with Lampard, I said there is no second choice.

“I’ve known about him since he was at Chelsea as a player, and he’s been my hero, someone I’ve always enjoyed watching play football.

“He is a legend,” Ambrose continued. “I’ve been impressed with what the manager has brought into the club and for me to come and have the opportunity to play under him is a great honour.

Efe Ambrose &  Nadir Ciftci of Celtic

“For him to bring me in is a great honour personally and I want to do what I can to make sure I play my part in the ambition of the club.”

Success with Derby over the coming months would represent one the finest achievements in a career which hasn’t truly followed the trajectory expected of it back in 2013, when Ambrose conquered a continent.

First of all, the defender must improve his fitness levels, although his imposing 61-minute showing in Derby U-23s’ 8-1 demolition of their Bristol City counterparts on Sunday represents a positive start.

At 30, further international recognition isn’t out of the question, and a strong return to form in a prominent division like the Championship should help Ambrose demonstrate that he still has much to offer.

 

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