How 'Roman's idea' became a stroke of genius

Ivanovic made a shaky start at Chelsea, writes Sam Wallace, but he's stealing the show at just the right time for Guus Hiddink

When Chelsea finally got shot of Andrei Shevchenko to Milan last summer, the Italians also offered £8m for Branislav Ivanovic. That a club that was as strapped for transfer funds as Chelsea turned down the offer demonstrated just how much someone at Stamford Bridge rated the Serbian international.

That someone was not the former manager Avram Grant, for whom Ivanovic never played; rather it seems that the man who joined Chelsea from Lokomotiv Moscow had a more influential sponsor. When Ivanovic, 25, arrived in January last year, a mysterious transfer-window signing, he was referred to at the club as "Roman's idea"; it was just a pity that Roman Abramovich was not at Anfield on Wednesday night to see just what a good idea it turned out to be.

Ivanovic's two goals against Liverpool in the Champions League are by far his most significant contribution at the club. His life there began in the least promising circumstances. Signed for £8m as cover for John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho, he turned out to be so far off the requisite fitness levels that he did not make his debut in the first team until September.

Nevertheless, Ivanovic – known at Chelsea as "Branna" under John Terry's rigorous nickname policy – has suddenly proven himself to be a crucial part of the Guus Hiddink renaissance. Ivanovic was encour-aged by Scolari, for whom he played 14 games, but Hiddink has chosen to sideline him until now. Wednesday was just his second appearance under the Dutch coach – he played at right-back as a replacement for Jose Bosingwa and it is hard to imagine the Portuguese international contributing in quite such style.

Frank Lampard said after Wednesday's game that Ivanovic was already regarded as one of Chelsea's most effective players at set-pieces. "He is fantastic in the air when he is attacking the ball," Lampard said. "He's probably the strongest player in our team. If you touch him he's like a rock and the way he attacked the ball for the goals, especially the second one which he powered back into the net, was amazing. When you've got players who can do that in big games they are so important."

Ivanovic grew up in the small Serb town of Sremska Mitrovica, near the border with Croatia and Bosnia and made his name with OFK Belgrade – nicknamed "the Romantics" – the capital's third strongest side after Partizan and Red Star. He is part of a first-rate generation of Serbian footballers and now plays alongside Nemanja Vidic in a senior team that is top of World Cup qualifying group seven ahead of France. His preferred spot is centre-back but he starts more often at right-back for his country.

Ivanovic came to prominence in Serbia when he scored the deciding goal in a 3-2 win over Croatia at the 2004 European Under-21 Championship in Germany, a tournament in which Serbia & Montenegro finished losing finalists to Italy. He was captain of the side when Serbia reached the semi-finals in 2006 and then were runners-up in 2007. They lost to England in the group stages that year but only after they had already qualified for the knock-out round.

His anonymous start to life at Chelsea prompted comparisons with Winston Bogarde, the Dutch defender who famously made just 11 appearances in four years at the club while sitting on a lucrative contract. Ivanovic, however, looks like he may well be part of the next Chelsea team after the rebuilding that is expected to take place in the summer. With Carvalho turning 31 next month, the Serbian is the right age profile for Chelsea's new, more frugal approach to life.

So who'll win? Champions League predictions

Three weeks ago, our experts gave their Champions League predictions. Have they changed their minds?

*James Lawton, Chief Sports Writer

Then: Arsenal to win, Barcelona as runners-up.

Now: Unchanged.

*Sam Wallace, Football Correspondent

Then: Manchester United to win, Barcelona as runners-up.

Now: Chelsea to win, Arsenal as runners-up.

*Glenn Moore, Football Editor

Then: Liverpool to win, Manchester United as runners-up.

Now: Barcelona to win, Arsenal as runners-up.

*Ian Herbert, Football Writer Then: Manchester United, Barcelona as runners-up.

Now: Unchanged.

Have your say: Who do you think will win? Join the debate at

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk