Ecuadorian midfielder Cristhian Noboa was just 22 years old when he chose to move to Russia and swap the warm and tropical climes of Guayaquil for the cold of Kazan, a decision that would change his life for good. “They were temperatures I’d never experienced before. It’s 30 to 35 degrees in Guayaquil, Ecuador, all year round,” the player told, comparing his hometown climate with the snowy, sub-zero winter he faced on his arrival in Russia.

While chilly temperatures can always be combated with a nice, warm coat, learning a new language is not so simple, as Noboa can vouch for. “The first year was very tough,” he recalled. “Adapting to the culture, the winter and the climate was a really big deal for me, because hardly anyone speaks English in Kazan. It was all Russian. I didn’t speak English in any case, so it was tough to communicate.” Speaking to his family back in Ecuador was no easy task either. Back in 2007, video calls were not as easy to make as they are now, forcing Noboa to use other alternatives. “The only way I could talk to them to start with was on messenger,” he explained. “We were on it virtually the whole time. Then we went on to Skype.”

The midfielder can smile at the memory of it all, not least because he has overcome those teething problems to make a resounding success of his switch to Russian football. Ten years on, following spells with Rubin Kazan and Dynamo Moscow, and a brief stint with Greek club PAOK, Noboa is still happily plying his trade in Russia, starring with Rostov, with whom he finished a league runner-up in 2015/16.

Identifying the main reason as to why he was finally able to settle down in his adopted homeland, the Ecuadorian said with a smile: “Everything changed when I met her.” The woman in question is Olya Romanova, his wife and the mother of his two sons, Christopher and Lucas.

“She helped me with the language, the culture and to make myself understood. It was a big change, and I realised that I was a different person,” said Noboa of his wife, whom he met in his second year in Russia. The beneficial effects of their relationship could also be seen on the pitch: “In 2008 I started 16 out of 30 games, whereas I’d hardly played the year before. And we [Rubin Kazan] ended up winning the league, too. As I always say, a lot of the things I’ve achieved have been down to her.”

Having now spent a third of his life in Russia, Noboa is only too happy to acknowledge how attached he is to the country. “I consider myself to be half Ecuadorian and half Russian,” he said with a laugh. “I’m not completely fluent in Russian because you’re always learning the language and it’s very complicated, but I can get by and express myself, which is the important thing. My older son speaks a lot of Spanish and my younger one understands it, though he replies to me in Russian. And my wife can speak Spanish now too.”

Places to see
Having lived in Kazan, Moscow and Rostov-on-Don – three of the Host Cities of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™, the first two of which will also be venues for this year’s FIFA Confederations Cup – Noboa gave us the inside view on the cities. “Of the three, Moscow has the most history,” he explained. “There are a lot of places to see. The Kremlin is really beautiful, for example, and then there’s Red Square, and I was taken aback by the metro too. You always think metros are going to be old and dirty, but this one isn’t. It’s got a lot of history, most of the stations have been built with marble, and it’s very pretty. I really liked it.”

He has little doubt as to his favourite place, however: “For me, Kazan is a city that’s very comfortable to live in. The standard of living is great and it has everything. The stadium is right in the centre too and there are lots of places to visit, like the Kazan Kremlin and the mosque. They’re the two things I’d recommend most.”

Noboa is keeping a close eye on preparations for the two major tournaments Russia is set to host. “I’m here and I can see the stadiums they’re building. I’ve played in some of them already, like Rubin Kazan’s home ground, and it’s spectacular. The stadiums look great.”

With Ecuador fighting hard to book their place at next year’s world finals – La Tri currently lie third in the South American qualifiers – Noboa urged fans from all over the world to pay a visit to Russia: “I’d recommend it to everyone. They should come because they’re really going to enjoy themselves. They’re going to see some unique and very pretty places, and the temperatures will be really nice at that time of year, because it’s summer,” he added with a wink.

When the chill sets in, though, Noboa has the perfect solution: a bowl of borsch, one of his favourite Russian dishes. “It’s a soup made from beetroot and they put this type of cream in it,” explained the easy-going Ecuadorian. “I really love it but I don’t tell my wife, who’s a great cook, because she’d make it for me every day then.”