English Angle: Branislav Ivanovic In Profile - Should Chelsea Keep Their Man?

Goal.com's Greg Ptolomey reviews the past, present, and future of Chelsea and Serbia star Branislav Ivanovic...
On Wednesday April 8, Branislav Ivanovic hauled Chelsea from a desperate situation – one down early on at Anfield in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-finals – and virtually into the last-four. He headed a deadly double to spark a 3-1 win; his movement, positional instincts and power there for all to see. Taking a closer look at the Blues' forgotten man, it becomes clear that such feats are his bread and butter. Even wily Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez didn't account for the threat of the fringe man, though, so who is he, and how did he fly under the radar?

Chelsea's interim boss Guus Hiddink was bound to rediscover this 25-year-old Serb. The Russia boss will have been aware of him from the defender's time with Lokomotiv Moscow, from where the west London club signed him for €13 million (£9.7m) in January 2008. He was technically Avram Grant's second signing, after Nicolas Anelka, but the Israeli never really fancied him, strengthening the notion that he was a boardroom target. The wider world continues to treat the emerging Russian league with kid gloves, so it's perhaps unsurprising that Ivanovic suffered immediate anonymity in England. Hiddink, though, has viewed Chelsea with fresh eyes and wasn't scared to throw this virtual unknown in at the deep end.

Indeed, Grant might have gobbled up the plaudits at the end of last season had he given him the right-back berth for the Champions League final in Moscow. He decided to play Michael Essien out of position instead, to the detriment of the side as they lost to Manchester United. It must be noted, though, that Grant's successor, Luiz Felipe Scolari, didn't have anything against the player, stating that he was in his plans and giving him a few run-outs before his dismissal. Even so, Ivanovic enjoys key player status for the Serbian national side and will have been desperate for a starring role at Stamford Bridge.

Staking a claim | Scoring versus Liverpool to bring first team action?

Italian clubs rate Ivanovic, that's for sure. As soon as it became clear that he was in the London doldrums, reports linked him to Inter, Juventus, Milan and Lazio with varying degrees of conviction. It was Fiorentina, though, who pushed hardest to sign him in January, with Viola coach Cesare Prandelli confirming his interest and the player's agent, Vlado Borozan, seemingly trying to usher his client to Florence. It seemed strange at the time, but Chelsea were reportedly dead-set on keeping him; perhaps now we know why.

Ivanovic's formative footballing years were spent in his homeland with first his local club Sremska Mitrovica, and then Belgrade outfit OFK Beograd. After three good seasons there, he joined Lokomotiv in the summer of 2006 and quickly became prominent due to his all-round game: pace, aerial ability, versatility, battling qualities and even a decent long throw. His exploits also include Serbian Under-21 stardom before he became a starter for the senior side. In fact, he's joint top scorer in World Cup qualification Group 7, which the Serbs lead ahead of France and struggling Romania.

Flying the flag | Ivanovic is a key defender and goalscorer for Serbia

The seeds of success have been there all along, and now he's on the lips of every Champions League follower in the world – so what now? It took a while for his countryman Nemanja Vidic to fully establish himself in the Premier League, so there's certainly hope. Learning English has apparently been something of a chore for Ivanovic, but he's said to be making headway now. As the season reaches its climax, Chelsea could certainly do with a relatively fresh body, especially one who can play across the back four or sit in front of it just as easily.

Chelsea paid a decent amount of money for the services of Ivanovic, and their days of transfer market fun and games have been all but ended by the global financial pinch. Thus, it would perhaps be insane to willingly lose a promising player yet to reach his peak. If the club want to offload him, they should have done it in January. Now, any cut-price exit would leave the Pensioners' faithful scratching their heads. Chelsea don't have the depth or the natural fitness in their defensive pool to toss this one on the scrapheap.

If Hiddink leaves Chelsea in the summer as planned, of course, the future of a host of players will be the subject of speculation and Serie A sides will be watching closely. For now, though, it's likely that Ivanovic will be given the chance to prove himself more than a one-hit wonder, and that's exactly what he'll have been waiting for.

Not sitting back | Time for Ivanovic to step forward

Branislav Ivanovic Fact File:

His nickname is 'Bane'.

Born on February 22, 1984 in Sremska Mitrovica, SFR Yugoslavia.

Height: 6' 2"(188cm) Weight: 13st 8lbs (86.0kg)

Named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament after the 2007 U-21 Championships in the Netherlands; his team were runners-up.

Won his first senior cap on June 8, 2005 for the team then called Serbia and Montenegro in a friendly against Italy, played in Toronto, Canada.

Scored his first international goal against Portugal in Lisbon on September 12, 2007.

Greg Ptolomey, Goal.com