How Branislav Ivanovic Went from Transfer Dud to Chelsea Superstar

Garry Hayes@@garryhayesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 9, 2015


"If you think Nemanja Vidic is good, you're in for a treat with Branislav. He's even better."

Those were the words of Branislav Ivanovic's agent on a mild January afternoon in 2008 as I stood observing a photoshoot with Chelsea's latest signing.

Ivanovic was busy completing his media duties after joining the club from Lokomotiv Moscow. Camera lenses were snapping, voice recorders pushed into his face as in-house media teams endeavoured to find out more about Chelsea's latest arrival.

He seemed somewhat nervous that day, speaking in broken English and mainly through an interpreter as he tried to get to grips with his new surroundings.

According to his agent, Jose Mourinho had tried to sign Ivanovic the previous summer, but the move had fallen through.

When Ivanovic eventually arrived, Mourinho had long since departed Stamford Bridge and it was Avram Grant who had got the transfer over the line.

Garry Hayes @garryhayes

Going through some old things I found this - my interview with Ivanovic the day he joined @chelseafc in Jan 2008 #CFC http://t.co/h3rGh4utAK

The Russian league ran in situ with the calender year at the time, however, so Ivanovic was effectively in his pre-season. He hadn't played for weeks, so when he joined training with the first team, lacking match fitness and sharpness, eyebrows were raised.

Chelsea's young hope of the time, Frank Nouble, even enjoyed showing him up on a couple of occasions, running circles around Ivanovic to the amusement of his coaches.

Recalling Nouble's promise from back then, the contrast between his career path and Ivanovic's is striking.

Nouble has bounced from club to club, struggling to make good on his potential. He's currently plying his trade at League 1 Coventry City—the 10th club in his career and he's still only 23.

Ivanovic, meanwhile, has won almost every honour in club football. Indeed, save for the UEFA Super Cup, there isn't a trophy he hasn't lifted.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 27:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea heads in their first goal in extra time during the Capital One Cup Semi-Final second leg between Chelsea and Liverpool at Stamford Bridge on January 27, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike
Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Those early days at Chelsea seem a distant memory.

It took Ivanovic until September 2008 to make his debut in a blue shirt—nine months after he joined the club.

He appeared a forgotten man—his agent's praise nothing more than a businessman inflating his client's abilities.

The 2008/09 season was the making of Ivanovic, though.

Despite Chelsea's struggles under Luis Felipe Scolari, he began to establish himself and flourished.

First it was at centre-back, then he was moved to the right side of defence, using his pace and direct approach to good effect on the flank.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea and Raheem Sterling of Liverpool battle for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield on November 8, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by A
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

What we saw was a player up against it, his reputation tarnished by a mid-season move that meant he was always playing catch-up with the fitness of his team-mates.

It took him close to a year, yet Ivanovic overcame it. The qualities he is famed for now—the commitment, the never-say-die spirit—pulled him back from the brink.

Ivanovic is a warrior of sorts, and players of his character flourish anywhere they travel, especially at Chelsea.

If we take his agent's word for it, it's no wonder Mourinho was eager to sign him in 2007.

And what the Chelsea boss saw in the Serbian back then continues to remain true today.

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 30:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea celebrates scoring his team's second goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Chelsea at Goodison Park on August 30, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Phot
Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

"With that magic left foot, I couldn't believe that [Ivanovic] would score such a goal with the left foot," Mourinho said after the right-back had won Chelsea another valuable three points against Aston Villa on Saturday, per BBC Sport.

"He did one last year against Manchester City, too, with his left foot, but it is the foot without stitches, so it's the foot that he's more comfortable with in the last weeks, so that's good."

What the Chelsea boss was alluding to was how Ivanovic always seems to find a way. Regardless.

Against Liverpool in the Capital One Cup semi-final, Ivanovic won the game with his header, sending Chelsea to Wembley to face Tottenham Hotspur on Mar. 1.

After that game, Mourinho suggested his blood-soaked boot should be on display in the Chelsea academy to show youngsters what it takes to be a professional at the highest level of the game.

BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Branislav Ivanovic of Chelsea celebrates with team-mates after scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Chelsea at Villa Park on February 7, 2015 in Birmingham, Eng
Clive Mason/Getty Images

It's about ability, yes, but without the right attitude, even the greatest of players will find they come up short.

It's about overcoming adversity, avoiding excuses and, above all else, having that determination to win at all costs.

Ivanovic is the perfect example of that. He was unfancied, written off, yet here we are now with Mourinho hailing him as one the finest.

"I think so," Mourinho replied when one journalist put it to him that Ivanovic was among Chelsea's greatest signings, per the Guardian.

From transfer dud to a Chelsea superstar—Ivanovic's agent was right all along.

Garry Hayes is Bleacher Report's lead Chelsea correspondent. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @garryhayes


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