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Former Chelsea star Branislav Ivanovic can’t wait for reunion with Brendan Rodgers when Celtic play Zenit

Branislav Ivanovic in action for Zenit against CSKA Moscow (Epsilon/Getty Images)
Branislav Ivanovic in action for Zenit against CSKA Moscow (Epsilon/Getty Images)

ZENIT St Petersburg’s former Chelsea star, Branislav Ivanovic, won it all at Stamford Bridge before moving to Russia a year ago.

And ahead of his visit to Celtic Park on Thursday, he’s revealed he owes Brendan Rodgers a debt of gratitude after he picked him for the first time for the London club.

The 33-year-old became one of Chelsea’s most-decorated players during a trophy-laden, nine-year spell at the club.

He won a Champions League winner’s medal, the Europa League, three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and one League Cup.

But it all began for the Serbian captain when he arrived in 2008 as a raw 23-year-old from Lokomotiv Moscow and was introduced to Rodgers, who was then reserve team manager at Chelsea.

Rodgers picked Ivanovic initially for his reserve team, before he established himself under Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Ivanovic said: “I was really impressed with Brendan.

“After he left Chelsea, he went on to build a big career for himself at some really great clubs, like Liverpool and Celtic.

“I think he is a very good manager and he is very passionate.

“He takes care of everything, he understands football, and he can build teams because he always gives chances to young players. I respect him a lot.

“When I first encountered him at Chelsea, he was something new for me – completely different, in fact, to what I had come across before.

“He was very precise with everything. He went through every movement you made, and he is very focused on every single situation in the game.

“My manager at Zenit, Roberto Mancini, is big on tactics. Brendan is a bit different, he’s more about team building, and their coaching sessions are different.

“They’re two big managers, and two big clubs so I expect a great game.”

Ivanovic is well clued up on the Scottish champions, and is looking forward to playing at Celtic Park for the first time and linking up again with Hoops hitman Scott Sinclair, who started his career st Stamford Bridge.

He said: “Scott and I played together a few times. He was good, although he was very young when we were at Chelsea.

“He wanted to make a career elsewhere, though, where he could get more regular games.

“He was one of those who you knew had the potential to be very good. Chelsea wanted to keep him, but he decided to leave.

“He’s a very dangerous player, and I could come up against him directly in Glasgow. It would be a good contest.

“It will just be like training at Chelsea again. To have someone like him in the Celtic team proves how difficult it will be for us.”

Ivanovic admits he can’t wait to sample the Celtic Park atmosphere for the first time.

But he revealed he has happy memories of playing in Scotland, having netted in a 1-1 draw at Pittodrie for Lokomotiv Moscow against Aberdeen in the UEFA Cup in 2007.

He said: “I’ve never played at Celtic Park, but I played for the Serbian national team against Scotland at Hampden. Then there was that goal at Pittodrie.

“Having played against Scotland twice in World Cup qualifiers. I know the mentality of Scottish players, and it is always going to be a tough game.

“You absolutely need to be on top of your game to compete with them. So to get anything in Glasgow, we will all have to be at our best.

“I moved to Russia because I wanted to win silverware and be part of a big ambitious club.

“This season we have a new team with a lot of potential.

“I’m 33, but I will never lose my hunger and desire to win things.”