Picture the scene.
It’s the 15th of May, 2013, in the Amsterdam Arena. 46,163 fans are watching the dying moments of a cagey affair between Benfica and Chelsea. Torres rounded the keeper to put the Blues ahead in the 60th minute, but Cardozo brought the Portuguese outfit back level with a strike from the penalty spot. The stopwatch was well into the red. The game looked certain to go to extra time.
A hopeful diagonal ball was picked up by Ramires who drove towards the corner flag. He cleverly managed to win a corner as the commentator said, “That will do.” Mata stepped up to the corner flag. Chelsea fans everywhere had their heart in their mouth. Last ditch stuff.
Outswinger. Played deep. One man had eyes for the ball. Running backwards, perfect header, looping into the far corner. Limbs. Chelsea are Europa League Champions. And to whom do we owe the pleasure? A certain Serb by the name of Branislav Ivanovic.
It’s fair to say that Ivanovic’s life in blue got off to a rocky start, after we acquired his services for £9.7 million from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008. It took him two seasons before he really nailed down his place in the first XI, vying for the position with Jose Bosingwa. He’d played under Grant, Scolari and Hiddink before he really became a regular under Ancelotti. But once he became a regular, he stayed as one for a long time. From 10/11 to 15/16 he only missed 24 league games. Now that’s no Azpilicueta stats, but it is impressive nonetheless. His consistency was rewarded with the role of vice-captain in the 2015/16 season.
Despite playing as a right-back and occasionally as a centre-back, he racked up over 60 goal contributions in his 377 games for Chelsea. His stocky build made him a constant threat from corners, and he also was an accomplished finisher off the ball, often leading Mourinho to deploy him as a second striker when we were chasing games.
A Stalwart In Defense
He was pretty good at his actual job too, and was the living, breathing definition of a no-nonsense defender. In fact, Raheem Sterling once described him as “the scariest player he ever played against.” He didn’t mess around when it came to tackling, which may have something to do with the number of red cards he picked up in his time in blue.
Who could forget his altercation with Suarez too, that left Ivanovic with a chunk missing from his shoulder, and Suarez with a 10-game ban. Ivanovic never pressed charges, but I will still never understand what was going through Suarez’s head that day, or the day he did the same to Chiellini. Strange, strange man.
But enough about Suarez, and onto my favourite memory of the Serb. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the video, but a group of Chelsea players were making a promotional video for Unicef’s ‘Human Appeal.’ Unfortunately, Hazard couldn’t keep a straight face as Ivanovic said, ‘Please support Human Appeal’ in his thick Eastern European accent, and burst into hysterics. The subsequent edit in which he say’s Arsenal is the biggest club in the world followed by Hazards laughter is even funnier.
All in all, Ivanovic was a true blue. Racking up nearly 400 games for the club, on top of a European Cup-winning goal, are feats many just dream of. Yes, his legendary status was tarnished by his declining performances in the 15/16 season, but he had been a complete servant for his whole tenure before that season. He deserves every bit of praise, and if he were still in his prime, there would be none of this Trent vs. Wan Bissaka nonsense. The Serb was a proper full-back. None of these cross and pray merchants.
Edited by: Dan