Sometime between April and May 2015, Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic lost his head.
He went from a ‘7 out of 10’ every week, to a ‘what is he doing?’ out of 10 every week.
No-one quite knows what happened. He looked different, as though he had been taken hostage in an Eastern European outhouse and seen things that would scar him for life.
His eyes had glazed over, his pace slowed, Jefferson Montero loomed.
Whatever the change, Mourinho bizarrely kept the faith, and many had the chance to watch a fading star continue to deteriorate week in, week out. Falling victim to Raheem Sterling’s pace, Yannick Bolasie’s guile and the great Kevin Mbabu.
Upon arriving at the cluttered wardrobe of Chelsea, Antonio Conte polished a few mistreated shoes, bought the loud, luxury loafers to the front and finally threw out the old pair of soiled boots that had been stinking out the right back side of the cupboard.
Ivanovic is gone. But his 2016 legacy lives on. You can pay homage to it with your friends at the park, or in the garden for your own pleasure.
Here’s the five step guide on How to Play like 2016 Bransilav Ivanovic:
1. Tits and Ass. Strut around the field like a mating cockatoo. Find some soft padding if you need the volume, but really stick out your backside. It’s classic Ivanovic, and will help recreate the slow turns and immobility we’ve grown accustomed to. You are a centre back after all, you have no idea why they keep playing you at right back.
2. Take ages on throw-ins, and encroach. Insist on taking all the throw-ins on the right-hand side. Even if it takes you a while to get there, and doesn’t make sense in the flow of the game. Once there, keep spinning the ball in your hand, whilst at all times moving forward. Keep a straight face, and you’ll gain a good 8–10 yards before the actual throw. Then, during the throw, take three or four faster steps and launch the ball as fast as you can, with no real direction. Congratulations, you’ve gained yards, wasted time and thrown the ball out for a goal kick.
3. Give away silly fouls in dangerous areas. Imagine a football Dad on the sideline, telling you ‘Jockey, jockey, don’t foul him, just jockey’. Ignore that, kick the player’s ankles. Then, when the referee blows for the blatant foul, take the ball with you while you run back into position, ignoring any further blows for your attention. A yellow card is most likely coming your way, but if you keep walking and blank the ref, he might forget to give you it. Once again, time has been wasted, for no real reason. 1-0 Ivanovic.
4. Go on marauding runs down the flank. Remember, you’re not just a right back, you’re a winger. Base yourself high up the pitch, making yourself an obvious but useless option for the more creative players. Snuffle out the speed and pace of their attacks with simple, often backwards passes. If you find yourself with even an inch of space even further up the pitch, put in a cross. This can’t be stressed enough – any sign of space, kick the ball anywhere into the penalty area. Sometimes low, so it fizzes through, missing everyone, sometimes hard and high so it goes for a throw-in on the opposite side of the pitch, but often – and this is key – go for a weak cross that doesn’t even clear the first defender. Textbook Branislav 2016.
5. Defensively, be all over the place. This is your bread and butter. Drag yourself out of position where possible, and almost watch what the attacking players are doing rather than react. Remember those tackles mentioned above, but if you don’t feel like it, just stick a leg out and allow the attacking team to pass it around you. It’s scary for fans, risky even, but every so often the only option you’ll have is to aggressively shoulder barge someone off the ball. It’s the one thing you’re still good at, and it’ll lead to either a throw-in (see 2.) a silly free kick (see 3.) or a slow motion replay – tits and ass in glorious high definition (see 1.).
And there we go, with slow reaction times, petty behaviour and stones in your shoes, you too can be a liability on the right-hand side of pitches across the country. And if England doesn’t want you, Russia will.
By Tom Hayward