Branislav Ivanovic’s unfortunate decline over the past 18 months has led many to overlook his accomplishments in a Chelsea shirt, which in their right, are astonishingly brilliant. No one could have envisioned the impact that he would have at Stamford Bridge, certainly not when considering that he was made to wait eight months for his debut, but the 32-year-old departed Stamford Bridge nearly a decade later with his name forever engraved in Chelsea folklore.
Ivanovic won every available major trophy during his nine years in South West London, establishing himself as an exceedingly competent centre-half and right-back with a lethal proficiency for goal-scoring. He endeared himself to the Chelsea faithful in the best possible manner with a most impressive brace in the quarter-final of the 2008-09 Champions League and consequently was often referred to as ‘two-goal’ Branna. Throughout the years he would add many more to his catalogue of important goals, such as the ones he scored against Benfica, Napoli, Manchester City, PSG.
In 9 years with Chelsea, Ivanovic managed 68 goals and assists (34 each). That's over 7.5 per season coming from a RB/CB.— Jake Cohen (@JakeFCohen) January 31, 2017
In Steven Gerrard's last five seasons at LFC, he scored 28 non-penalty goals.— Jake Cohen (@JakeFCohen) January 31, 2017
Guess how many Ivanovic scored over that same period?
Ivanovic wasn’t the only Chelsea ‘Old Guard’ in the news in the past week. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s prodigal son and all-time leading goal scorer announced his retirement only days later. The thought of not seeing the man regarded by many as the greatest Chelsea player ever grace the pitch is a rather perplexing thought, especially for someone like me who grew up worshiping and idolising Super Frank — it’s all I’ve ever known.
John Terry is the last remaining member of the ‘Old Guard’, the sudden and sobering realization dawns, with John Obi Mikel, the embodiment of dependency and reliability over the past ten years, having left at the start of January.
But while Chelsea’s identity on the pitch is beginning to change, the club have a duty to ensure that our heroes and legends remain connected with the club in some capacity. The precedent for this has been set already in fact, so the club just have to ensure that the policy continues.
Carlo Cudicini, for example, has been elevated to a prominent member of Antonio Conte’s coaching staff this season, while Paulo Ferreira and Eddie Newton are working in the loanee department. Several former players, including Jody Morris and Tore Andre Flo, among others, are involved in the youth coaching setup and that’s before get to club legends serving as ambassadors and being prominent parts of matchday hospitality at Stamford Bridge.
With a new generation of Chelsea legends nearing the ends of their playing careers, Chelsea have an ideal opportunity to utilise this tremendous wealth of knowledge and experience.
Lampard and Terry have both recently confirmed their intentions to attain coaching badges, while Michael Ballack has already done a bit of punditry and plenty of excellent social networking. And then there’s Didier Drogba, who was already linked with a non-playing role with the club last year, and recently rejected a playing contract at Corinthians. Drogba’s personality demands respect and his influence in the dressing room was a key part of Chelsea’s last title-winning campaign of 2014-15.
Conte has laid the foundations for a new-look Chelsea over his first six months at the club, but as much as things have gone exceedingly well since his appointment, the harsh reality of modern football makes it unlikely that he will get to oversee it for more than a few years, at best. Like Mourinho, he may set a new playing identity for the next decade or more regardless, but, ultimately, the fabric of the club extends well beyond just these ideals. Through the players, it’s the connection with the fans that defines a club, and getting the likes of Drogba, Lampard, and Terry back in non-playing roles would help solidify them.