Fernando Torres scored by rounding off goalkeeper Victor Valdes, and Chelsea booked their place in their second final in Champions League history. The Blues were one man down and trailed by two goals as their dreams looked likely to get shattered in Barcelona. But, a consequent Ramires goal and the defensive solidity for the rest of the game helped pull out a spectacular victory which remains one of Chelsea’s biggest nights in football.
Geoff Shreeves then interviewed the duo of Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic; with both the players buzzing to be playing the game of their lives coming May. But, Geoff ruined the mood. A certain Serbian didn’t know he was suspended to play for the final; and when asked about suspension felt for him, he looked surprised and immediately started looking pale as he came to realize that fact. The core of Chelsea defense then said: “Unfortunate” but it was certainly more than that. He was devastated; he felt like a lion rattled in a cage with a hunt on the mind.
That has been the persona of a player who’s served this club for almost a decade now, and he is what Chelsea Football Club represents – vigor and determination.
Patience has always been the key
Born on Sremska Mitrovica at then Yugoslavia, Ivanovic was from a family with a sporting background. He played as a striker until the age of 15 for Sremska Mitrovica, for the club his father also played professionally. No wonder, he was a striker initially; with his striker instincts still deeply rooted in his playing style. The Serbian has scored a lot of important goals for Chelsea over the years – with his goal against Napoli in Champions 2012 probably the most important of all that put us through to the quarterfinals after what was a rugged display away at Italy.
It was a difficult start for Branislav Ivanovic at Chelsea. He was unable to impress Avram Grant, the then Chelsea manager, in his first season and as Branislav mentions it – it was his most difficult period of his career. But, he is not known to run away. He has never done that – he is a man of immaculate determination, and though, two top Italian clubs were looking to make him the leading man, he stayed and decided to fight for his place. It took almost eight months for the Serbian to get his first start on the pitch and he’s now gone to have 261 Premier League appearances for the club. That is the testament to any new incoming Chelsea player that patience remunerates if you work hard.
A role model for a young player
As a player, he’s a role model for any up and coming defender. You can have talent and get the accolade you deserve based on that talent. But, life is never simple – esp. not football. Rough moments and tough decisions are almost always inevitable in football and talent won’t have any effect then. Mental resilience is what differentiates top players from high potentials – and Ivanovic certainly had it in abundance.
As Ivanovic scored against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup semifinal in the 2014-15 season – a goal that defines his comfort in front of the goal – the game provided a better picture about why Scolari began re-establishing Ivanovic in the squad after months of snubs. As Mourinho rightly put, ‘He [Ivanovic] has lots of blood and the boot is full of red blood, and it should go straight to the academy,’
He was a man with a plan, and that plan is work hard no matter what, and push your team towards the path of victory even if it means to spill a few drops of blood. That’s the reason why Chelsea has been fortunate over the years; with siege mentality a core character of the past Chelsea generation, and it’s important to continue that.
It was not Chelsea’s park-the-bus that won us Champions League. It was not just Chelsea’s defensive solidity that won us titles over the years. It was the mentality and team spirit of the players we had. Branislav was a member of Premier League’s hardest working core, and while Antonio Conte might not feel the Serbian is necessary for his plans at this time, he’d be the happiest man on the planet if someone offered him the Brana that was in his prime. Because he ticks every box that the manager wants from his players.
The legend departs
It is heartbreaking to finally realize we’d never see Ivanovic in Chelsea’s colors again, but the defender has certainly left a mark in our history by stepping up to the occasion every time. While the Premier League world was busy commemorating the old core of Terry, Lampard, and Drogba – and rightly so- in the significance of the 2012 holy grail, the right back has performed consistently for the Blues for almost a decade without getting under any such spotlight.
Ivanovic is the last of Chelsea’s best generation of stars – along with Terry and as much as current generation might ramp on about the beauty of football pointing towards the silkiness, but Chelsea’s real identity lies in the playing field bullies such as Ivanovic, and that was the thing that made us love Chelsea Football Club. His talent may be replaceable by any good upcoming defender. However, it will be difficult to replace the whole package of siege mentality, vigor, and loyalty that seldom gets recognized in modern football.