Branislav Ivanovic has today joined Zenit St Petersburg following a wonderful nine-year Chelsea career, during which time he became an integral member of the side and scored many important goals as we won eight major trophies.
Ivanovic will be best remembered for his last-gasp header which clinched the Europa League trophy in 2013, but his overall contribution during the club’s most successful years cannot be overstated and he departs as a true Chelsea legend.
The 32-year-old ends his time at the club having won two Premier League titles, one Champions League, one Europa League, three FA Cups and one League Cup.
He is also one of only five foreign players – along with Didier Drogba, John Mikel Obi, Petr Cech and Gianfranco Zola – to reach the 300-game landmark for the Blues.
Tough, tenacious and highly committed, Ivanovic signed for the club in 2008 from Lokomotiv Moscow. Over the course of his nine years in west London he played at right-back and in central defence, performing with incredible consistency in both positions.
It was at right-back where he really began to establish himself in the Chelsea side, but his versatility ensured he was always able to fill in more centrally when required, as he did during the 2012 FA Cup final with both Gary Cahill and David Luiz out injured.
That 2011/12 campaign will live long in the memory as we were crowned kings of Europe after beating Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. Though Ivanovic missed the Champions League final itself through suspension, the part he played in helping us get there will never be forgotten by the Chelsea faithful.
It was his sweet extra-time strike which proved decisive as we overturned a 3-1 first-leg deficit against Napoli in the last 16, and he completed both legs of the semi-final against Barcelona when we defended heroically as a team to secure our passage.
Ivanovic’s form for Chelsea led to him being appointed Serbia captain in 2012 and he became the first player to win consecutive Footballer of the Year awards in his home country that year and the next.
After making his Chelsea debut in a League Cup win at Portsmouth in 2008 it did not take long for the Blues supporters to warm to him, as his two near-identical headers in front of a stunned Kop helped us to a crucial 3-1 Champions League win at Anfield. He ended the following campaign with Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medals, as well as a place in the PFA Team of the Season, after making the right-back position his own when Jose Bosingwa picked up a long-term injury.
For a defender, his coolness in front of goal was to be admired and important strikes were a recurring theme throughout his time at the club.
In 2014, his brilliant left-footed drive won us a thrilling Premier League game at Manchester City as we became the first team to stop them scoring in a home league match for four years. In 2015 he booked our place in the League Cup final with a thumping extra-time header against Liverpool.
Never was his commitment to the cause underlined more than in that game against the Merseysiders. As well as scoring the goal which sent us to Wembley, he ended the match with his right foot covered in blood after going through the pain barrier during what was a hotly-contested fixture. Jose Mourinho, our manager at the time, suggested the defender’s boot should be put up in the club’s Academy as an example to our younger players of what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
Ivanovic was outstanding during the title-winning campaign of 2014/15 and played all but a few minutes of the 38 games. The Blues boasted the best defensive record in the league and he was one of six Chelsea players named in the Team of the Season.
He also possessed the leadership qualities which are so important in a squad which is used to challenging for the biggest prizes. He was a key figure within the dressing room and that was recognised by Mourinho when he made him the club’s vice-captain at the start of last season.
Ivanovic wore the armband for the first time at home to Crystal Palace and did so again on a number of occasions throughout the campaign.
He ended his Chelsea career in style, rising from the bench to smash in a goal against Brentford in his final game at the weekend. He found the net 34 times in his 377 Chelsea appearances.
Highly valued by both team-mates and supporters, Ivanovic will undoubtedly go down as one of the Chelsea greats.
Big goals, big moments and the biggest prizes.
He will always be a true Blue.