Meet Christian Noboa: Who is Sochi’s Latin maestro?

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Nobody expected Sochi’s rise to the summit of Russian football to be so sharp, especially after only just escaping what would have been the relegation playoff zone last season, even less that their goalscoring spearhead this season would be Christian Noboa. The Ecuadorian midfield creator is himself no stranger to the Russian Premier Liga though, having played here for almost 14 years with just a six-month hiatus at PAOK Salonika in 2015, and lifted five trophies in his time. But how did he become a bona fide legend of Russian football in the first place?

The story so far

No player from outside the former Soviet Union republics has made more appearances in the Russian Premier Liga than Christian Noboa. Very few at all have come close to the impact of the happy-go-lucky Ecuadorian who has adopted Russia as a second home. His profile was not one expected to even arrive in the RPL, yet along thrive over 14 wonderful years with five different clubs, all of which could have been academic had a few slithers of fate fluttered the other way.

The classic rags to riches story of a hungry child obsessed with football is not the one that paints the picture. Noboa was born in Ecuador’s largest city of Guayaquil, a port that opens out to the Pacific towards the Galapagos Islands. His father was a high-ranking member of the country’s military and would move the family around from place to place, including the archipelago where Charles Darwen formulated his Theory of Evolution. Noboa Sr was not passionate about the sport, but his first-born son simply wanted to express himself.

Christian evolved into an elegant playmaker, with his skills honed in an innocent childhood of unstructured football. His curiosity got the better of him, and at the relatively late age of 15 decided that he would give it a shot at Emelec - the club he had supported all his life - to see where it would take him. Perhaps it was portentous of his true calling that his trial took place in the chilly winter rain of January.

He developed his skills from a delicate, graceful ‘6’ into a more disciplined defensive ‘5’, learning the value of hard work and a broader spectrum of passing. Off the pitch, he was studying, working and training, and by the age of 18 he was showing signs that he would make it, even though his first salary was just $250 a month.

After three years in the Emelec first team he received an offer from Rubin Kazan, and embarked on a journey few thought would last as long. Although at first it was a serious challenge for the warm weather-loving playmaker, as he only played in about half of the games, and even then mostly off the bench. Slowly but surely he adapted to fit Kurban Berdyev’s system, and earned the respect of his colleagues and fans.

His crowning moment was arguably an outstretched foot. In 2009 Rubin Kazan were playing away at the Camp Nou against one of modern football’s greatest club sides, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona. Bojan Krkic’s stray pass was diverted off-course by Noboa’s foot with the score level at 1-1, finding its way to Alejandro Dominguez. After skipping past a couple of challenges he fed Gokdeniz Karadeniz, who capped a stunning counter-attacking movement with a cool finish to complete one of the greatest shocks in Champions League history.

He rejoined Berdyev at Rostov in 2015, and came within a whisker of lifting a very unlikely Russian title with them, before again stunning a former European champion as Bayern Munich fell victims. Injuries punctuated his spell under Sergey Semak in Zenit before a move to warmer climes at Sochi. This season has been the most golden of Indian summers - he has already equalled his highest scoring league campaign with eight goals - but is there one last sunset left?

Did you know?

His father was appointed Commander General of the Ecuadorian Navy in 2016 after a long and distinguished career in the military. His position naturally held significant exposure for young Christian; last year, in an interview on Ecuadorian television, Noboa recalled how as an 18-year-old breaking into the Emelec side he received a terrifying phone call threatening retribution if he didn’t score in the next game. Although it turned out to be a prank, the experience accelerated his maturity on and off the pitch.

Plays like...

Juan Sebastian Veron. The languid grace of the former Manchester United, Lazio and Chelsea midfielder is reminiscent to a degree of Noboa’s movement. Both appreciate the beauty of a well-struck pass, and given the time and space are capable of the most outrageously spectacular shots on goal. 

They say…

“As for Christian, I know for sure that there is simply no such player in Russia anymore. Even in Europe, you need to look for his intelligence.” - Kurban Berdyev, Noboa’s manager at Rubin Kazan and FC Rostov

“Berdyev was for me, like a father, and the best coach I’ve had in my career. He made me a complete player. Before him, it was only attacking with no defence, no positioning, no tactics, no nothing. With him, I learned to make my game complete.” - Christian Noboa repays the compliment in an interview with Russian Football News

“We believe that in the Russian League, if not the best in his position, that he is definitely one of the top three. He is an experienced and highly professional footballer. He has great physical presence and despite his age, he is in great shape. Noboa has everything we need.” - the late Konstantin Sarsania, former Zenit St. Petersburg’s sporting director who brought Noboa to the club in 2017

Photo: Sergey Kulakov/FC Sochi; Rubin Kazan


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