Chelsea Champions League winner Branislav Ivanovic has revealed how Roman Abramovich gave him “huge motivation” at the club, where the Russian owner was a friend as well as a boss to the defender and offered vital personal advice.
Billionaire Abramovich has kept a low public profile since transforming the Blues in 2003, turning them into contenders in the Premier League and Europe with the help of the likes of Ivanovic.
Still in the Premier League with West Brom, Ivanovic has admitted that he needed Abramovich’s support after enduring a difficult spell following his arrival for around $13 million from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2008.
“When I came to Chelsea, I was not ready to play right away, which made me nervous and disappointed,” veteran defender Ivanovic told Zurnal.
15.05.13 🏆Branislav Ivanovic wins the Europa League for the Blues! pic.twitter.com/QSx1pDzldx
“At that moment, Roman Abramovich dragged me aside and said, ‘I believe in you.’ After a half-hour chat, I had a huge motivation to work.
“He advised me and when I got up in the starting lineup, he sometimes came to the locker room.
“He is not only the owner of the club, but a friend. I hope that we will see each other again soon. Without him, Chelsea is not the same club.”
Ivanovic did not make an appearance during the season in which he joined Chelsea after another of Abramovich’s friends, then-boss and former Israel coach Avram Grant, deemed his new signing lacking in fitness and match sharpness.
In a period that he has described as the most difficult of his career, Serbia’s leading appearance maker was swiftly linked with moves to other major clubs before becoming integral to Chelsea and winning a place in the English Professional Footballers’ Association’s Team of the Year in 2010.
He won the Champions League with the club in 2012, but perhaps his finest hour was scoring the last-gasp goal to beat Benfica and secure the Europa League for Chelsea the following year, winning the Man of the Match award after his heroics in the final.
“Sometimes people from the sidelines can better understand the situation than those who are directly involved in the matches,” the 36-year-old said of the owner’s words of wisdom to him. “Abramovich is one of the most important people in my career.”
Ivanovic joined Zenit St. Petersburg in 2017, winning the Russian Premier League in each of the two seasons that followed and making his Serbia swansong at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
English top-flight newcomers West Brom added his experience to their squad before the start of this season, although he was not involved in their dramatic 3-3 draw at home to Chelsea in September, when they went 3-0 up in 27 minutes before the visitors fought back with three goals after half-time.
Speaking about Chelsea coach Lampard and Aston Villa assistant manager John Terry, who were both teammates of his at Stamford Bridge, Ivanovic said: “It is nice to see that they are successful as coaches too.
“I hear from most players from that period regularly. We have contact and I am very glad about that.
“Most of them have hung up their boots and I am still playing. But I was the youngest of that group.”
Speaking after Ivanovic’s match-winning display against Benfica, current Chelsea coach Lampard called him “an absolute professional” and “a man you want on your side.”
“You only have to look at him to see what a beast he is,” the midfielder said at the time.
“He goes under the radar a bit because he just does his job, but what a player. He’s a pleasure to play with and a great man, and he particularly deserved it [winning the Europa League] out of everybody.”