Branislav Ivanovic’s start to life in London was far from smooth. After joining Chelsea in January 2008, he initially found life difficult in England under the manager Avram Grant. He was a new signing, who was far from fit, and was reportedly being outshone in training by youth academy players.
Nine years later he would leave as a club legend having won almost everything there is to win at a domestic level. His transformation from reluctant right-back to prolific goal scoring defender is one he deserves great credit for, and part of the reason that he was named as our right-back in The Sportsman’s greatest Premier League team of all time.
His journey to becoming a Chelsea great nearly didn’t happen. After a testing first six months to say the least, he was linked with a move to Italy but former Chelsea man Andriy Shevchenko convinced him to stay at Stamford Bridge, and helped him mature as a defender.
Despite his ability to play as a centre-back due to his strong physical traits, under Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink he still couldn’t nail down a place in the first team. However, the Chelsea fans had already begun to see him as somewhat of a cult hero, a fact only enhanced when he scored two goals in their Champions League quarter-final against rival Liverpool, which saw them make the last four.
Hiddink departed at the end of the season having left him out of the key games, but Ivanovic’s goalscoring traits would become something of a speciality over the next few seasons. Carlo Ancelotti breathed new life into the defender and over time he became a colossus. At centre-back he filled the void an injured John Terry left, with Jose Bosingwa at right-back, before he moved across and showed just how much of an attacking threat he could be.
He was everything you would want in a defender. If you had to put your life on a player being able to shepherd the ball out under pressure from a pesky forward, it would be Ivanovic. He was strong, fearless, good in the air, a relentless runner - and in front of goal he repeatedly came up with big goals.
He also played a vital part in that epic Champions League win. That season back in 2012, when Roberto Di Matteo’s side shocked the whole of Europe, the Serbian was absolutely crucial and won the hearts of every Chelsea fan. His winning goal against Napoli was truly iconic for this football club, while he then played a key role in the wins over Benfica and Barcelona to take them to the final.
However, as Geoff Shreeves brutally informed him after that Camp Nou success, he would miss the final. Chelsea suffered without him, but got the job done in dramatic circumstances as Didier Drogba won them the title from the spot. Although Ivanovic wasn’t on the pitch, he was an absolutely integral part of this Champions League win and would get his moment in the spotlight twelve months later.
By this time, he was an undroppable member of Chelsea’s back four and had taken his game up yet another level. Having fallen into the Europa League, the Blues did everything possible to win it, and Ivanovic was trusted by yet another manager in Rafa Benitez. In the final against Benfica, he scored a 93rd minute winner to secure the trophy for the Blues in a win that meant that for just over a week, they held both European trophies.
Over his Premier League career he won one Champions League, one Europa League, three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup. It is a remarkable haul of trophies from a man who could have seen his football career in England disappear before it had even begun.
For Chelsea fans, Branislav Ivanovic goes down as an influential modern great.