Branislav Ivanovic's Chelsea career has been one slow slog towards his own demise. Granted, if we want to get philosophical about it, that could be said of any player ever — after all, we're all dying form the moment we're born — but for Ivanovic, this has been a repeated feature of his Chelsea career from day one.
He signed in January of 2008 but didn't actually play until September. He first played right back, but we wanted him to play center back instead. He then played center back, but we wanted him at right back instead. When he made the PFA Team of the Year in 2010, we wanted him to be better offensively. When he made the PFA Team of the Year in 2014, we wanted him to be better defensively. When he missed out of the 2012 Champions League final, our hearts broke for him. When he played in the 2013 Europa League final, our hearts couldn't take the stress.
Quietly, amidst the near-constant criticism of never being quite good enough, Ivanović has accumulated 365 appearances, drawing him level with Harold Miller (who played for the club in the 1920s and '30s) for 20th all-time. (Both Ivanović and Mikel, two of the three active players in the all-time top 20 have accomplished this very quietly.) Theoretically, this doesn't quite prove that Ivanović was ever actually great; it just means that he's always been good enough. Good enough for 40+ appearances in each of the last seven seasons, in fact.
Along the way, his demise had been predicted multiple times over. When Bosingwa comes back! When Filipe Luis signs! When the new manager takes over! When Azpilicueta re-learns to be right back, again! When tomorrow comes! When you need someone to depend on! And so and so forth.
Here's the latest, from the Telegraph's Matt Law, whose sources seem convinced that Ivanovic will be the one dropped int favor of either Marcos Alonso or David Luiz or both. Ivanovic face a fight for his own future! Could this time be THE time? Certainly. Anything's possible.
Ivanovic had a horrendous start to last season, in part due to a nagging injury, and perhaps less willful managers than Mourinho would've taken and locked away his boots for his own sanity and protection, if nothing else. But Mourinho didn't and Ivanović put together another solid season despite all the drama. He's doing the same at the start of yet another new era, his versatility once again coming to the fore to help him get minutes on the pitch.
But not even Ivanovic can overcome Father Time, that harshest of judges. He will turn 33 later this season, and attention will once again turn to the question of a new one-year contract. Will it be time for the Vice-captain to abdicate his office?