When your father is a high-ranking military man, things like discipline and respect tend to be integral parts of your upbringing. Yet, though he instilled those values in his three sons, General Fernando Noboa of the Ecuadorian Navy has seen his wish of them pursuing careers in the military go unfulfilled. The middle of the three, Roberto, came the closest of all to following in his father’s footsteps, but ended up in the business world. As for Fernando’s two other sons, they proved something of a disappointment, as Cristhian, the eldest of the three boys, explained.
“He didn’t like the idea of football at all to begin with,” said the Ecuador and Rostov player with a smile, in conversation with FIFA.com. “He didn’t agree with it. He wanted me to study, to be a naval officer. In the end, though, he said to me: ‘If you like it, then I’ll support you all the way’.” If there is one thing that the midfielder had clear in his mind, it was that the armed forces were not for him: “I’ve never liked being told what to do.” It is perhaps for that reason that he ended up in the middle of the pitch, directing operations instead of receiving orders.
David, the youngest of the Noboa boys, followed his oldest brother into football, a path that was mapped out by their mother Sonia. “I’ve liked football ever since I was a little boy,” said Cristhian. “I have a lot of cousins and we’d go to their house to play. Then one day, when I was eight, my mother, aunt and a friend of my mother’s decided to enrol us in a football academy.”
Having found his vocation, Cristhian began applying the discipline and dedication he had learned at home to it. “I knew that if I was going to devote my energies to football, then I’d have to avoid lots of things, like parties, going out all night, drinking and smoking. All I did between the ages of 14 and 19 was train, try to eat properly and rest. I missed out on my youth, but it goes without saying that it was worth the effort,” he added with a smile.
Recalling his nomadic childhood, the midfielder said: “We’d change house, school and friends every two or three years, because of my father’s job.” That explains why he did not have to think too hard when Russian club Rubin Kazan approached his then club Emelec with an offer to sign him in 2007. After packing his bags and making a beeline for Kazan, he found it hard to settle, however, as he acknowledged: “To begin with, I was asking myself: ‘But what am I doing here, in such a cold place on the other side of the world?’”
Communication problems, the culture shock and a totally different climate meant he had to grit his teeth and keep looking forward. “I got through it thanks to all the things my parents taught me: the spirit of sacrifice, discipline, being mentally strong,” explained Noboa, who rose to the challenge, so much so that in a few months he will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of his arrival in Russia.
Married to a Russian woman, Olya, and a father to two “Ecuadorian-Russian” children, he is entirely at home in his adopted country, though there are some things he misses, as he admitted with a laugh: “I’ve always preferred the heat to the cold. I really love playing in hot conditions.”
It is for those reasons, and the fact that he loves playing for his country, that Cristhian is looking forward to swapping the snowy landscapes of Rostov for the South American spring, if only for a few days, as Ecuador continue their bid to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™. One of La Tri’s star performers of the campaign, which has seen them move into third place in the table, the 30-year-old midfielder knows that their November double-header is crucial to their chances of qualifying. “It’s been a real fight and it will be right to the end.”
Noboa also knows that Ecuador’s hopes of making it to Russia, the land he now calls home, hinge on their form in Quito. “It’s all going to come down to our home games. That’s how we made it to the World Cup in Brazil, by being strong there.”
That home form has been a concern to date, however. Following a superb start to the campaign, Ecuador suffered two setbacks at their Quito fortress: “We dropped points at home to Paraguay and Brazil, points we didn’t drop in previous qualifying competitions. We’ve managed to get our confidence back in the last few games, though, and we picked up four points out of six against Chile and Bolivia.”
Up next for La Tri come a trip to Montevideo, where opponents Uruguay have won all their games, and a home match with struggling Venezuela, who need a miracle if they are to advance to Russia. Predicting a home win against La Vinotinto, Noboa is not so sure how Ecuador will fare against the Uruguayans: “We have a few people injured and suspended and that’s going to weigh a little heavy. We’ll try to give as good as we get and fight hard. Getting a point in Uruguay would be really useful.”
Like the fans, the Guayaquil-born Noboa wants nothing more than to make it to the world finals for the second time in a row. “We just have to get there,” he said, before adding that he and his team-mates need the fans behind them: “We can feel their support at every match and we need them to keep giving it to us.”
That goes for his family too, father Fernando included. Though his dream of seeing his children follow him into the military did not materialise, he is rightly proud of his son and has kept his word in backing him all the way to the top.