Trials, tribulations and triumphs: How Fabio Quagliarella became one of Italy’s great strikers

The incredible story of how Fabio Quagliarella grew to become one of Serie A’s top strikers before a stalker turned his world upside down – and his rise back to the top to become the oldest Capocannoniere in league history.

Aurelio De Laurentiis walks down the veranda in his morning slippers and golden bathrobe, adjusting his eyes to the glistening sun over the Bay of Naples. The smell of freshly made espresso runs through the villa, as he takes his first sip, arms stretched out in repose. Opening a few notes between marriage invitations and thank you letters, one without a return address catches his eye.

Inside, the anonymous letter divulges a “secret” on his star striker, Fabio Quagliarella. In it, he could barely fathom the words he read. Accusations that the Naples born Quagliarella enjoyed cocaine parties with high-ranking gang members, as well as labelling the forward a paedophile who was obsessed with orgies. The Napoli owner advised his player to leave his hometown of Castellammare, and live in a hotel until the dust settled. It would be the last time Quagliarella would hear from his boss.

Plasê di Cognossiti – Udine

The striker from Italy’s Mezzogiorno, or south, has had a career unrivalled in terms of highs and lows, and freakish circumstances that have seen him become a nomad in constant search of a footballing home. He played out his younger years with the likes of Torino, Fiorentina, Chieti and Ascoli, before igniting his career at Sampdoria. Finding his footing in the 2006/07 season, the striker shocked Serie A by scoring 13 times, with more than a few of them being truly sensational goals.

After grabbing the attention of a number of top teams throughout the peninsula, young Fabio’s ownership was split between two teams. In a blind auction between Sampdoria and Udinese, the Friulani came out on top, with a winning bid of €7.15 million. Heading east, Quagliarella joined fellow Neapolitan and legend in the making, Antonio Di Natale. Together, the two were quite the tandem, making the Friuli a threat from anywhere in their opposition’s half.

The following season, Quagliarella scored a massive 29 goals between all competitions, leading Udinese to a record season in Europe. After bowing out to Werder Bremen in the UEFA Cup quarter-finals, life would become even sweeter with a move to Napoli.

‘A vott’ chien’ e ‘a mujer’ ubriaca – Napoli

It appeared a dream move. After working his way up the ranks and now about to hit his prime years, Napoli would be bringing him home. With the Partenopei’s resurgence to Serie A, he was the man tasked with bringing glory back to the city. Every goal he scored in Azzurro was paired with his kissing of the badge and an adoring look up to his home faithful. Alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, it was a match made in heaven – until the dream became a nightmare.

Quagliarella’s homecoming began as serene as the Campanian sun. But for 18 months, not all had been right in his personal life. Someone or something had hacked the messaging service on his computer, and the types of content being spewed from it had been affecting him. When he moved back home to Castellammare di Stabia with his parents, things only got worse.  Letters in the mail contained obviously downloaded pictures of nude underage girls, accusing him of sleeping with them and calling him a paedophile. Others were encrypted in a type of code, seeming like they were from some high-level crime organisation.

The accusations continued for some time, even as his mother Susanna tried to hide them from his attention. Texts were sent to his father Vittorio stating the accusers knew where his son was and were going to kill him; that he was match-fixing and that they would beat him up and shoot him in the legs. Personal messages about friends and family that no one other than they could have known were received. Afraid that the accusations would be enough to tarnish his reputation, the player and his family were urged by the state investigator to keep the situation to themselves.

Fabio stopped going out on the town with friends, and the constant pressure of being watched eventually wore him down. Once his safety and security had been compromised, unsurprisingly his football suffered. The goals dried up and a missed penalty kick against Fiorentina epitomized his state of mind. He fell to his knees in despair, staring down into the darkness overtaking his life. Living in fear for his family was compromising his career.

Quagliarella’s only choice was to leave home, and he grasped the opportunity to move as far away as possible – to Juventus. The move was seen by the entire city as a betrayal, the lowest crime one can commit in Neapolitan culture. But Quagliarella could not speak publicly about his choice and explain himself. As for his family, they were subjected to abuse far worse than slights such as ‘traitor’ on the streets of Castellammare.

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One weekend, hoping to get away from the lunacy that his life had become, he headed to a resort village on the water, inviting friends Giulio De Riso and Giovanni Barile. After an evening of dancing and relaxing on Fabio’s new sport boat, the guys had lost track of the time. Vittorio, scalding his son for being out in the open, let it slip that he was being watched. Barile finished the sentence that was about to come out of Fabio’s mouth, then De Riso jumped in – they were being stalked as well.

A piece of misinformation given to Barile, odd deleting of text messages in front of Vittorio, and missing reports that De Riso had made to the police all linked to one man – their state investigator and hometown friend, Raffaele Piccolo. Quagliarella gathered more evidence against Piccolo by taping a recorder into his underwear. Matched with cell phone pings that matched the location of the anonymous threatening phone calls, Piccolo was arrested. The blackmail then stopped for good.

Strenzo i denti e parlo ciæo – Liguria

After the revelations of the mad stalker and an understanding of the situation, Napoli ultras unfurled a banner across their Curva at the San Paolo:

In the hell that you have lived in, (you have shown) enormous dignity. We will embrace you again, Fabio, son of this city.

To say Quagliarella’s life returned to normal would undermine the long term emotional impact the situation had on him. However, as time passed and he found serenity once again, Fabio returned to doing what he loved best – scoring goals. After a stint across town with Torino, the striker returned to his home away from home, Sampdoria – the club where he emerged on the scene and had unfinished business.

The 2018/19 season defied words. After equalling Gabriele Batistuta’s record of scoring in 11 straight matches, some may have doubted if the soon-to-be 36-year-old could maintain the pace for the entire season. Yet as he notched another birthday, his goal tally kept rising. By the end of the season, Quagliarella led Sampdoria to a top-ten finish in the league. His 26 goals, not including another two from European competition, earned him the record for Italy’s oldest Capocannoniere.

While his age would suggest that the shining moments are coming to an end, Fabio does not seem to have fatigued like some of his counterparts. Less European football and an almost nine-year hiatus from the Azzurri could be factors in Quagliarella’s resilience but takes nothing away from his hard work and professionalism.

With Euro 2020 approaching, he has been included in Roberto Mancini’s squad for Italy’s qualifiers as the patriarch of a young attacking ensemble. Whether he’s leading the pack or not will depend on next year’s form, but if his career has proved anything, it is that his mental strength could be his secret formula for success.

Back home in Napoli, forgiveness has been shown between Quagliarella and the city. As with any family, the worst of times are often followed by beautiful moments of reconciliation.

Words by Wayne Girard: @WayneinRome 

Graphic: @Forza27_RS