The Blues defender is near the end of his nine-year stay at Stamford Bridge which has seen him play a crucial role in the club’s most successful years
Branislav Ivanovic is in Russia, on the verge of leaving Chelsea with an incredible legacy; and it is right that he should be regarded among the all-time greats at Stamford Bridge after almost a decade of success.
Without the 32-year-old, the Blues may not have become the first London club to win the Champions League and English football’s history could look a lot different. His finest hour was arguably his late winner versus Napoli in 2012, which swung the dramatic European tie in Chelsea’s favour ahead of the final against Bayern Munich.
Ivanovic has produced goals and assists in big moments against Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool which has helped his side to win titles, but he often has been a quiet match winner, producing blocks and tackles as part of one of the Premier League’s greatest-ever defences.
The curtain is coming down on a great era at Chelsea as Antonio Conte continues to offload and sideline the old guard, with Ivanovic joining John Obi Mikel and Oscar on the exit list. Meanwhile, John Terry’s role has been greatly reduced as his Italian boss promotes the likes of Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake from the academy.
Ivanovic isn’t one for sentiment, but he must leave the club with a heavy heart having scored and assisted in a mere 26-minute final appearance for the club at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup against Brentford.
There was no badge kissing, no fan fare, with Ivanovic being a character who is happier to focus on the job at hand rather than make himself the protagonist.
You will never see Ivanovic “do a dab” or take a selfie and, in an unsual stance for a modern footballer, keeps a wide berth from social media. Ivanovic doesn’t do self-promotion, but he does do self-sacrifice and has been a loyal servant for Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea for the past eight-and-a-half years.
Ivanovic is one of the few players with a direct line to the club’s owner and he developed a personal relationship with the Russian oligarch at Stamford Bridge. On the pitch, however, he has never used his influence at the club to undermine managers.
This is despite being forced to switch position after his move to Chelsea, with the likes of Luiz Felipe Scolari, Carlo Ancelotti and Jose Mourinho converting him from a centre-back to a right back.
He also struggled in his first few months after his move from Lokomotiv Moscow as he was asked to make a step up upon completion of the Russian Premier League season.
He had four managers in his first 18 months at the club and had to compete with big-money signing José Bosingwa for the right-back position, with Ashley Cole having nailed down his spot at left-back.
It was Chelsea’s £30 million flop, Andriy Shevchenko, who helped him through those tough early months as he soon got to grips with life in London and the Premier League.
“I can’t forget what Andriy did,” the Serbian said back in 2010. “He really helped me. He tried to give me confidence. He told me about the style of play in England, what I had to do as a defender and where I could improve.”
Greatness and a legacy aren’t easily achieved in football, and it is rarely filled with just good moments, but Ivanovic’s strength has led him to be one of the few players honoured on Chelsea’s old Shed End wall outside Stamford Bridge.
He will also be remembered for that last-minute header in the final of the Europa League – one that broke the hearts of Benfica fans across the world – as the footballer from the tiny town of Sremska Mitrovica took centre stage.
His last year at the club may have been punctuated with a few errors and declining performances, but it was the fault of Chelsea and Mourinho for not transitioning him back into a centre-back position or onto the bench sooner. He was never a natural right-back in the first place and his advancing years made his work down that right flank even harder.
Conte doesn’t believe that Ivanovic’s career is over and that a move to Zenit St. Petersburg could revitalise the Serbia captain to another few years of influential performances:
“He has played a lot of games for Chelsea and has won a lot here,” the manager said.
“He is 32 years old and can play many more years at the top level but it’s important to respect the player’s decision.”
His difficult final year is overshadowed by a career of glory and Ivanovic should be honoured as one of the club’s true greats for many years to come.