Branislav Ivanovic has left Chelsea. The long-serving Serbian defender officially called time on a trophy-laden nine-year stint at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday (1 February) by completing his anticipated free transfer to Zenit Saint Petersburg.
His exit had been expected, with Ivanovic undergoing a medical and agreeing personal terms before flying to join his new teammates at their winter training camp in Spain. Pictures later emerged on social media of the 32-year-old wearing a Zenit top and the five-time Russian champions have now confirmed a two-and-a-half year deal that the London Evening Standard believe to be worth £82,000-per-week.
West Bromwich Albion were believed to be keen on a loan switch, but that deal never came to fruition after manager Tony Pulis insisted on the penultimate day of the window that he had in fact never been on the Baggies' radar. Leicester City and Crystal Palace were also credited with an interest back in early January.
Ivanovic possesses prior experience of Russian football, having won the domestic cup during a previous two-year stint with Lokomotiv Moscow. He subsequently joined Chelsea for £9m ($11.3m) in January 2008 and, after an inauspicious start, eventually established himself as the club's first-choice right-back going on to make a total 377 appearances across all competitions. Renowned for his uncompromising and impressive versatility in defence, he won two Premier League titles, one Champions League medal, three FA Cups and one League Cup during his near decade of service and scored a memorable stoppage-time winner during the Europa League final victory over Benfica in 2013.
Blues captain John Terry was quick to pay tribute to Ivanovic, writing on Instagram: "Absolutely gutted to see Brana leave Chelsea. An unbelievable defender for us over the years and a great and big character and presence in the dressing room. Good luck mate. Won everything at Chelsea and a proper legend."
Once regarded as arguably the finest right-back in Europe, Ivanovic suffered a notable slump in form during Chelsea's wretched title defence under Jose Mourinho in 2015-16 and never quite recovered. He later became a casualty of Antonio Conte's successful switch to a three-man defensive system and started just eight matches under the Italian. Obviously absent from the matchday squad against Liverpool, his final outing came last Saturday (28 January) when he scored and earned a penalty to help secure a dominant 4-0 FA Cup fourth-round victory over west London rivals Brentford.
Chelsea have also now confirmed the departure, posting a detailed overview of Ivanovic's career in English football that ends with the tribute: "Highly valued by both teammates and supporters, Ivanovic will undoubtedly go down as one of the Chelsea greats. Big goals, big moments and the biggest prizes. He will always be a true Blue." They also point out that he follows Gianfranco Zola, Didier Drogba, Petr Cech and Mikel John Obi as only the fifth overseas player in Chelsea's history to play 300-plus games for the club.