23 year old Serbian defender Branislav Ivanović became Avram Grant’s second signing of the January transfer window, following on from the £15m signing of Nicolas Anelka last week.
The versatile Ivanović can play anywhere across the back four- Gallas-esque- and could be seen as the long term replacement for one of Chelsea’s most reliable defenders. He is composed in possession, evidenced by his ability to play as a fullback or as a centre back whilst he is strong in the tackle and a threat from set pieces.
Ivanović played for FK Smederevo and Remont Cacak in his early days as a youth footballer. His eventual breakthrough came with Remond Cacak as he made three appearances in the first team in season 2002/2003, before spending the next season as a regular fixture in the starting lineup.
The defender’s first move was to Serbian giants OFK Belgrade, a side on the up and looking to compete with local rivals Red Star Belgrade and Partizan Belgrade. Ivanović’s star was on the rise, as he was a permanent resident in the OFK defence that competed in the UEFA Cup two seasons running, his performances alerting those outside of the Serbian Superliga to his burgeoning talent.
Ivanović’s next move came in the form of a transfer to Russia, where he linked up with Lokomotiv Moscow. Their coach labeled him “the best young defender in Europe,” and it was there that he set about not only living up to the reputation, but enhancing it.
Although unable to win the league title in his first season in the Russian capital- Lokomotiv finished third- personal recognition was on the way for the strong defender, as he was called up to Serbia-Montenegro squad for the u-21 European Championships, a team that he ended up captaining in the finals.
From there, he went on to win his first international cap for Serbia and Montenegro, in a 1-1 draw with Italy. He has since added eight caps for Serbia to his impressive resumé, plus an international goal against Portugal, a vital 88th minute equaliser in a Euro 2008 qualifier.
Domestically, Ivanović played a vital part in Lokomotiv securing the 2007 Russian Cup, as they defeated Dinamo Moscow in the quarter finals, Spartak Moscow in the semi-finals and finally, FK Moscow in the final.
His performances were once again outstanding and with rumours that Manchester United, Juventus and Chelsea were keeping an eye on him, a move away from Russia seemed almost certain. Eventually, Chelsea paid approximately £9m to take the Serbian to Stamford Bridge and we keenly await to see the impact that the youngster has, in his first proper taste of club football with a true European giant.