King Ivan’s reign: A Tribute to Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic

Branislav Ivanovic was an exceptional, swashbuckling defensive player for Chelsea. The versatile Serbian could play anywhere across the backline, provided plenty of attacking threat going forward, and scored several goals that won matches and lifted trophies for Chelsea.

King Ivan is undoubtedly a Chelsea legend and arguably the best Chelsea right back in recent times. His game was shaped around incredible athleticism, offensive production, versatility, and an ability to show up in big matches and clutch situations. Ivanovic n will always preside over his thrown at Stamford Bridge.

Branislav Ivanovic receives his Man of the Match award after scoring the winning goal in the Europa League final for Chelsea FC. Image credit Getty Images
Branislav Ivanovic receives his Man of the Match award after scoring the winning goal in the Europa League final for Chelsea FC. Image credit Getty Images

Ivanovic’s career was not always as successful, however. His career started in the Serbian League with hometown club FK Srem and then moved to OFK Beogard. After displaying enough promise as a young player in Serbia, he was recruited to move to Russia and signed for Lokomotiv Moscow. Ivanovic was an instant starter for Lokomotiv and helped the Russian side compete for the Russian Premier League in the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Serbian Prince was beginning to forge his career path that led him to become King Ivan. His stellar performances, versatility, and goal scoring caught the attention of top clubs across Europe.

After two seasons in Russia, AC Milan, Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan and Chelsea were all reportedly interested in and vying for the Serbian’s signature. Ultimately, Chelsea completed a 9.7 million British pound deal in winter 2008 and held off the stiff competition for Ivanovic. The Serbian warrior arrived in London as the most expensive transfer to depart from the Russian Premier League in history.

Unfortunately, Ivanovic did not play at all in the remainder of the 2007/2008 as then Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, due to what was cited as a lack of match fitness. This lack of fitness was due to the scheduling of the Russian Premier League and Chelsea noticed this even in training. It was a very tough start to life at Stamford Bridge for the Serbian, as he failed to make an appearance in his first season as a Blue.

Ivanovic later called this initial six months at Chelsea the hardest and most frustrating period of his career. There were plenty of elite players to compete against for minutes and he was struggling to impress in training against the top-class attackers that were employed by Chelsea in the late 2000s. Because of this, Ivanovic was rumored to be considering a move away from Chelsea in summer 2008. However, he decided to remain in SW6 after being mentored by Andriy Shevchenko.

Ivanovic opened his first appearance in the 2008/2009 season by starting at right back against Portsmouth in the League Cup and then made his Premier League debut against Aston Villa. Despite showing promise in his appearances with the club, he still struggled to nail down a starting spot under then-manager Luis Felipe Scolari. Ivanovic continued to have up and down performances throughout the season, and was in and out of the XI because of this.

Scolari only selected Ivanovic nine times until he was sacked. Guus Hiddink became the interim manager but he also continued to select others ahead of Ivanovic for minutes on the pitch. Hiddink did not select Ivanovic in the first team for nearly two months but gave the Serbian a start against Newcastle United and showed a great response. His defensive strengths were on full display and he was selected ahead of a massive Champions League quarter final against Liverpool. Ivanovic got the start for the first leg at Anfield and displayed his goal scoring abilities as he bagged a brace that was crucial to Chelsea eventually winning the quarter final. However, just as the dominating defender was beginning to make his rise to the throne, he was again dropped and relegated outside of the first team and made little appearances to end the 2008/2009 season. His fighting spirit never died, and he would go on to show his worth to the Blues.

The 2009/2010 season was a true breakthrough season for the Serbian international player under Carlo Ancelotti’s management for Chelsea. Ivanovic was given the start to the season in the Community Shield against Manchester United, and then went on to be given the start to kickoff the Champions League group stage against Porto. Ivanovic also began to show his famous goal scoring ability, with the first goal of his season coming in the Premier League against Bolton Wanderers on Halloween 2009. Ivanovic was employed at full back and center back for the Blues, but the midseason injury to fellow right back, Jose Bosingwa, left the Blues with little other choice but to hand off the full time starting minutes at right back to Ivanovic.

He went on to take this opportunity and showed his incredible worth at right back. His combination of fast and physical defending plus his swashbuckling runs and attacks down the flanks made him a standout player for the Blues. He was selected into the PFA Team of the Year at right back and never looked back after the 2009/2010 season.

The 2010/2011 season required Ivanovic to display his incredible defensive versatility due to injuries to the backline. He was shuffled across from starting at right back to then starting at center back. His clutch goal scoring ability was displayed while at centre back as he scored the winning goal for Chelsea in the Premier League away to Blackburn Rovers. Chelsea faced Spartak Moscow in the Champions League group stage and King Ivan responded by thumping in two goals and scored the only Chelsea goal in the 3-1 league loss to Arsenal.

Due to his versatility, defensive acumen, and keen goal scoring ability, Ivanovic was offered and signed a five-and-a-half year contract extension with Chelsea. The 2010/2011 season saw Ivanovic nominated for Chelsea Player of the Year, but the award went to Petr Cech. The future was bright for the Serbian’s reign over the Chelsea right flank.

In the 2011/2012 season, he was a mainstay in the Chelsea side and a crucial player for the eventual Champions League title. His integral role for this title can easily be traced back to his extra time goal in the Round of 16 against Napoli. The Blues returned to Stamford Bridge after losing the first leg in Naples 3-1 and ultimately this led to the sacking of Andres Villas Boas and the appointment of Roberto Di Matteo as the interim manager. Ivanovic was routinely selected by Di Matteo and again helped the Blues navigate their way into the Champions League Final by dispatching Benfica and Barcelona. For the second consecutive season, Ivanovic was nominated for Chelsea Player of the Year but lost out to Juan Mata.

The 2012/2013 season was where Ivanovic best displayed his incredible goal scoring ability for a defensive player. He was devastating from set pieces and from driving down the flank and towards the opponent’s box. Ivanovic had scored five goals by midseason for the Blues, and this was a proper foreshadowing of events to come. In the Europa League Final against Benfica, Ivanovic was poised for an iconic moment as a Blue that will long live in fans’ memories.

The Serbian international was in the box for a stoppage time corner kick. He rose highest to the cross from the spot and directed his header to the far side of the goal and scored in the 93rd minute, which sealed the title for the Blues and saw them win the Champions League and Europa League in back-to-back seasons. This was one of the most iconic and powerful moments of Ivanovic’s reign and beautifully encapsulated his time with the Blues. He was always a threat at both ends of the pitch and was a player with incredible resiliency and mentality. Ivanovic finished the 2012/2013 season with a remarkable 8 goals across all competitions.

The return of Jose Mourinho saw Ivanovic’s stock within the squad rise even further in the 2013/2014 season. He was selected for nearly every match that season. One of the most iconic moments of this season for Ivanovic was in the match away to Manchester City. The match ended 1-0 to the London club, and the only goal was a superb piece of skill that showed all of Ivanovic’s best strengths as a right back. He made a swashbuckling run down the right flank and received the ball at the top of the box and fired a rocket of a shot that was driven low into the opposite end of City’s net past the outstretched arms of Joe Hart. This is personally my favorite goal that King Ivan scored wearing the royal blue of Chelsea.

He then went on to have yet another stellar season in 2014/2015 with Jose Mourinho as the Blues won the Premier League title. In this season with Mourinho, Branislav Ivanovic crafted many important and crucial goals for the Blues throughout the season. He scored in the opening Premier League game away to Burnley, the game-winning goal against Liverpool in the League Cup semifinal, the winning goal against Villa in the league, and Chelsea’s lone goal in the Champion League Round of 16 away to PSG.

He finished the 2014/2015 season with six goals and five assists as a right back and was again selected to the PFA Premier League Team of the Season. The Blues went on to win the League Cup and Premier League in 2014/2015 with Ivanovic being an ever-present figure in the squad.

By 2015/2016, his reign began to decrease in fervor. Despite being named the vice-captain of the Blues, it was more of a season to forget for Ivanovic. The entire squad suffered the collective malaise and decline in form stemming from the circumstances surrounding the squad with then manager, Jose Mourinho. Blues fans know how this story played out, and Mourinho was sacked in December 2015. The squad had a slight rebound in form following Guus Hiddink again returning as interim manager. The Serb routinely wore the armband throughout this season due to injuries that John Terry suffered, and it was a proper – albeit slightly disappointing – way for Ivanovic to begin to wind down his incredible career at Chelsea FC.

The 2016/2017 season at Chelsea saw a change in manager with Antonio Conte coming to Stamford Bridge to revive the declining squad that Mourinho left in his wake. Conte initially favored playing Ivanovic at right back in a 4-1-4-1 formation. But, time stops for no man, and unfortunately Ivanovic was no exception. His legs seemed to be dropping in pace and stamina, and was being run ragged at times on the right flank.

It was a tough scene to watch, as King Ivan had been one of the key and clutch players in the Chelsea squad for so many years. Ivanovic’s reign over the Premier League was fully over after the 3-0 defeat away to Arsenal. Conte famously changed the tactics and formation to a 3-4-3 and Victor Moses overtook Ivanovic for the RWB spot in the XI.

He was then allowed to return to the Russian Premier League with Zenit in January 2017, and he left Chelsea as a fan favourite who always contributed 100% on both ends of the pitch. Ivanovic scored a goal in his final appearance for the Blues in the FA Cup match against Brentford and walked away with a legacy worthy of royalty at Stamford Bridge.

Ivanovic went on to win back-to-back championships with Zenit and also guided the Russian club to a Russian Cup win. He was a crucial defensive player for Zenit in those two seasons and also scored 12 goals during this span as an ageing defensive player. His keen sense for goals never dried up and was a testament to just how much of a unique, dual threat player that King Ivan was.

After all is said and done, Chelsea were lucky to have pulled the trigger on the 9.7 million British pound deal for the young Serbian in the mid-2000s. He went on to score so many important goals, contribute an undeniable fighting spirit, provide a defensive backbone with swashbuckling, powerful play along the right flank, and wore the armband many times for the club. He is arguably a legend of Stamford Bridge and was a key player of the old guard despite being in the shadow of Frank Lampard, Cech, Didier Drogba, and Ashley Cole. Nevertheless, he will always have an incredible legacy at Chelsea FC and will long be remembered as a great servant to the club that contributed however possible, and always stepping up in the biggest moments.

Written by Travis Flock (@Crossroads_CFC)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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