Ivanovic says his good­byes as a hero of Chelsea

As he gets ready to de­part Stam­ford Bridge, the Serb will be re­mem­bered as one of the best right-backs in the Pre­mier League and a gen­uine match-win­ner

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As he pre­pares to de­part Stam­ford Bridge, the Serb will be re­mem­bered as one of the best right­backs in the Pre­mier League.

It used to be the sort of game that would suit Branislav Ivanovic. The sort that would de­fine him, and which he could de­cide.

In­deed, Fri­day marked the two-year an­niver­sary of a seis­mic clash be­tween Chelsea and Liver­pool, a typ­i­cally badtem­pered and close af­fair that was set­tled by Ivanovic, whose ex­tra-time goal took the Blues to the League Cup fi­nal.

As Liver­pool and Chelsea re­con­vene at An­field tonight, it will prob­a­bly be with­out Ivanovic – not just in the start­ing 11s, but in any ca­pac­ity. His eight-year stay at Stam­ford Bridge could be con­cluded be­fore then.

Hav­ing ar­rived in one Jan­uary, he seems set to exit in an­other.

An over­looked un­der­study when he joined, who was not granted a de­but for eight months, he has be­come a high-pro­file re­serve at the end, dropped four months ago.

His last league start has ac­quired a sym­bol­ism.

It was the trough be­fore the peak, the last chance for old­school Chelsea be­fore An­to­nio Conte rad­i­cally re­shaped them.

It was Septem­ber’s 3-0 de­feat to Arse­nal.

Ivanovic’s po­si­tion at right­back was then ren­dered re­dun­dant, his du­ties split be­tween Vic­tor Moses and Ce­sar Azpilicueta.

With 15 wins in 16 sub­se­quent league games, Chelsea have moved on and so – seem­ingly – will Ivanovic.

Yet be­tween that in­aus­pi­cious start and a largely ig­no­min­ious end­ing to his time at Stam­ford Bridge, he was a colos­sus.

He ri­valled Pablo Za­baleta, an­other war­rior who is suf­fer­ing for his con­sid­er­able ef­forts, for the un­of­fi­cial ti­tle of the best right-back in the Pre­mier League. But he was much more be­sides, and not merely be­cause he was Chelsea’s best cen­tre-back un­der Rafa Ben­itez.

Signed dur­ing Avram Grant’s time in charge, given his bow by Luiz Felipe Sco­lari, pen­sioned off by Conte, he was nonethe­less a de­fin­i­tive Jose Mour­inho player – a ruth­less, force­ful win­ner.

When he was at his best, he was a heroic fig­ure. It was fit­ting that Ivanovic was on the score­sheet in his ap­par­ently vale­dic­tory ap­pear­ance against Brent­ford on Satur­day be­cause no de­fender de­liv­ered more im­por­tant goals in that time.

Some were prod­ucts of his aerial abil­ity, oth­ers the re­sult of rampaging runs on the right flank.

There was a win­ner away at Manch­ester City. An opener at Paris Saint-Ger­main.

Show­ing his flair for late goals, some­thing to which Liver­pool can, the 93rd-minute Uefa Cup­win­ning goal against Ben­fica in 2013.

Lat­est of all was the 105thminute de­cider in the 2012 Cham­pi­ons League tie against Napoli that marked the start of Chelsea’s re­mark­able run to glory un­der Roberto di Mat­teo.

Ivanovic was one of the he­roes of the 2012 semi-fi­nal against Barcelona, and one of those banned for the fi­nal.

He was one of the full-backs who formed the cen­tre-back part­ner­ship in the Nou Camp af­ter Gary Cahill had limped off and John Terry been sent off, he and Jose Bos­ingwa some­how keep­ing out Lionel Messi and co.

He was, to use Mour­inho’s won­der­ful phrase, “a com­pet­i­tive an­i­mal with a big heart”.

In an era when Chelsea have pos­sessed vast riches, his £9 mil­lion (Dh41.3m) fee ranks among their best bar­gains.

Se­lect a com­bined Chelsea team from the Ro­man Abramovich era and Ivanovic would be pa­trolling the right of the de­fence with a trade­mark mix­ture of de­fi­ance and ad­ven­ture.

But he dis­cov­ered that de­cline can be swift and un­be­com­ing.

His finest sea­son, when his ef­forts in Chelsea’s 2014/15 ti­tle-win­ning team earned him a vote or two in the Foot­baller of the Year bal­lot, was also the last be­fore he proved a fad­ing force.

Hav­ing climbed a moun­tain, he tum­bled down the other side of it.

He ranked as one of Chelsea’s great­est dis­ap­point­ments last sea­son.

Af­ter six games in this cam­paign, Conte de­cided to drop him.

Ivanovic, like Terry, be­came yes­ter­day’s man.

But his yes­ter­days should be re­mem­bered.

They were tes­ta­ment to his char­ac­ter and de­ter­mi­na­tion. An im­port who came to epit­o­mise his adopted club, a foot­baller signed to stop goals who scored 33, of­ten in cru­cial fash­ion, Ivanovic be­came Chelsea through and through.

It is why, though he is no longer the re­doubtable force of old, his de­par­ture should be mourned.

David Klein / Spor­tim­age

Branislav Ivanovic may be yes­ter­day’s man now but there was a time when he proved to be an im­por­tant part of Chelsea’s suc­cess.

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