CELTIC manager Neil Lennon expects Sunderland to make a bid this summer for his key central defender Efe Ambrose.
Without naming the club or Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill, who was his mentor as a player, Lennon admitted he has been “made aware” of interest in the 24-year-old Nigerian from the English Premier League. Ambrose is O’Neill’s idea of a centre-half in that he is strong, quick, good in the air and a price tag of around £6million would suit his budget.
When specifically asked about Sunderland and Ambrose yesterday, Lennon said: “I hope we won’t lose Efe in the summer as he’s just in the door and there’s more he can add to his game. But he has got a few admirers out there with his performances this season.
“There’s been nothing concrete, but I’ve been made aware of it, put it that way.
“There is definite interest from top teams in different countries. He’s been a great signing for us.” Swansea and Liverpool are also interested and they, along with Sunderland, have watched Ambrose – who scored in his team’s 6-2 win over Dundee United on Saturday – a number of times this season.
Ambrose attracted unwanted headlines last week when two individual errors led to Celtic conceding two goals in a 3-0 defeat to Juventus, and he also missed an easy chance to score himself in the Champions League last-16 clash in Glasgow.
However Lennon (pictured right) came in for criticism for playing him against the Serie A Champions just hours after landing back in Scotland two days on from winning the Africa Cup of Nations.
And while last week’s performance was obviously disappointing, his displays in the two matches against Barcelona in the group stages were outstanding.
Lennon said: “Efe was very disappointed after Tuesday night. However, overall he’s been brilliant for us and there’s been a lot of interest in him. Not just in England, but interest on the Continent as well. “
Signed from Israeli side Ashdod for just £1.5 million on a three-year deal less than six months ago, the 22-times-capped Nigerian international has been one of Celtic’s most consistent players in their European campaign.
Ambrose has played in defensive midfield for his country – and as a right-back for Ashdod – as well as in central defence.
Sunderland are expected to move on Matt Kilgallon and Titus Bramble in the summer, while the likelihood of Wes Brown ever being seen in again in a red-and-white shirt looks remote, so O’Neill, who enjoys a close relationship with Lennon, is on the look-out for an Ambrose type of player.
The Sunderland manager is also a fan of Celtic’s winger James Forrest and has been keeping tabs on the 20-year-old.