Adam White

Fabio, Son of Naples

Adam White
Fabio, Son of Naples

This article can also be found in the first issue of Onside Inzaghi and GIFN.

t would be one of those goals that, at the time, only Maradona could score. A weird goal, something that would make people go crazy… a long-range shot, a powerful kick in the last second of an important match.” Fabio Quagliarella’s childhood dream to score those goals would come true. After a somewhat meandering career, encompassing the spectacular and the downright horrifying, now 36, Quagliarella is at his peak. Although he may have morphed into a more orthodox striker at Sampdoria under Marco Giampaolo, those “long-range shot and powerful kicks” have long been his trademark.

“With him they know there’s no escape, he shoots from mid-field and with no problem he scores,” Napoli fans would sing, “he isn’t able to score a normal goal but we like him this way. He makes the whole city dream.” Player specific songs are rare at the San Paolo, Diego Maradona heading a small group to be honoured, but Fabio Quagliarella’s song was well earned. As an Udiense player his stunning volley “against my Napoli” as Quagliarella, a boyhood fan and Naples nmative, put it, won goal of the season in 2009. However, that strike may struggle to make his personal top ten.

An audacious chip for 25 yards as Italy desperately chased down Slovakia at the 2010 World Cup; a near-post back heel against Udinese when with Juventus; an absurd 40 yard lob on the turn during his first spell with Samp away at Chievo, and a ludicrous jumping heel flick for Sampdoria in September join countless  powerful volleys, delightful chips, bicycle kicks and long-range rockets. While songs sung from terraces are often hyperbolic, given that Quagliarella’s career total has only recently surpassed 200, endless YouTube compilations of glorious strikes lend support to the idea that he really is “not able to score a normal goal.” The late editor of the Gazzetta dello Sport, Candido Cannavo even went as far as to describe Quagliarella’s goals as “beautiful and impossible.”

This time with Sampdoria, however, that has been different. Nineteen Serie A goals last season represented the zenith of Quagliarella’s career before a brace in the 3-3 draw with Parma this weekend took this season’s total to 25 and put him three clear in the race for Capocannoniere which includes Cristiano Ronaldo. Thirteen had been Quagliarella’s high water mark previously. Although a spectacular streak remains, all-action, speculative displays have been moulded into more predatory, composed performances in leading Sampdoria’s front line.

“There are no secrets,” the forward explained last season, “it is love for this job, if you can call it that, and the desire to improve myself always, because I am very critical of myself. The environment [at Samp] I like a lot, the coach is very good.” Finding the right environment has been something of a career-long pursuit for Fabio. Arriving in the 2016 winter window, Samp was Quagliarella’s tenth professional club, having also spent the 2006-07 campaign at the Marassi. After a smattering of outings with Torino as a youngster at the turn of the century, Quagliarella had to wait until the 05/06 season to establish himself in the top tier with a miserly 3 goal haul across 34 league games for then Serie A midtable outfit Ascoli.

Sampdoria would, not for the last time, prove to be the right place for Quagliarella as 13 in 35 games the following season got him noticed at 24 years of age, nearly two decades on from his talents first emerging as a 5 year old playing in his garden. A pair of productive seasons with an exciting Udinese side which included Antonio Di Natale and Alexis Sanchez followed a move home to Napoli. “A dream come true,” beamed Quagliarella upon signing, “I’ve always been a blues fan.” Shockingly, however, that dream would fade in hellacious circumstances.

“I always had imagined myself as captain of Napoli, of winning something with them because they were becoming as good a team as they are now,” Quagliarella told Mediaset in 2017. “If none of this had happened, I am certain I would still be playing there now.” After just one season, however, he was gone. “A stalker tormented me for over five years,” Fabio told newspaper Le Iene, “It started with a [computer] password problem. Then I started getting anonymous letters with pictures of naked girls, accusing me of pedophilia, of working with the Camorra [the mafia], of dealing drugs, of fixing games.”

The player’s family and friends were also targeted as the situation escalated. “My father received threatening messages,” Quagliarella explained, “They told him that someone would shoot me in the head or that they’d blow up my home with a bomb.” His beloved were sent letters too, falsely accusing Fabio of the same crimes. “Any tiny scare suddenly became a huge danger, once you knew about these threats,” the player explained. “You felt like you were constantly being watched, under threat, always looking to see who was looking at you sideways. You cannot imagine the tension just being at home.” The striker later explained he, nor his family, could even leave their house.

A man close to Quagliarella, a police officer, had been aiding the Quagliarella family in investigating the stalker but those investigation got nowhere. “In the end, my father figured it out,” Fabio recounts. “He realised the authorities never got my formal complaints because the stalker was keeping them all to himself.” His friend, the policeman, had been the stalker. His “investigations” came to nothing because the stalker kept all Quagliarella’s complaints to himself and continued to send threatening messages. Although the policeman’s crimes were eventually unearthed, Quagliarella was advised not to discuss the case and he was sold unceremoniously to Juventus in 2010.

“People accused me of leaving Napoli for money, but that was not true and really annoyed my family. The fans cared for me and felt betrayed, but they couldn’t know the real reason I left.” As a result, Napoli’s notoriously vociferous support labelled him a ‘traitor.’ “I tried to let them know how much I loved Napoli with little gestures, like refusing to celebrate after a goal for Torino,” Quagliarella explained, “I knew of the importance of this for my city.” As the forward asserted in a harrowing interview with the Bleacher Report last year, his love for the club was unwavering. “Napoli fans saw themselves in me, I knew I was not alone when entering the pitch - I was there with the whole city. It was the dream of many fans, which I was realizing.”

By all accounts, Quagliarella is a genuine and thoughtful professional, although his classically wide-eyed goal celebrations might hint otherwise. “He’s a serious and humble guy,” says Aniello Bardella, Quagliarella’s first coach at youth club Junior Gragnano. “At 9 he already thought only of training every day.” Having left home at just 13 for a boarding school at the other end of the country in Turin, Fabio found life tough. “I called home at three in the morning in tears. I spoke with my mother, I wanted to come back to her.” But the young Quagliarella stoically carried on. “I owe everything to my family who supported me with a thousand sacrifices,” he later maintained, speaking with Napoli’s daily newspaper, Il Mattino.

His ethos of hard work remains true today. “He knows how to do things, he knows how to train, he has played important games in his career, he is mature but he is also supported by an excellent physical condition,” praises Giampaolo, “at 35 years old he has an enviable physical and mental condition.” An admirer, Giampaolo made Quagliarella his captain at Samp last season. “Fabio has reached a very high level of reliability and perfection in training… there are players who have perceptions of space and time that others do not have.”

Aside from his best goal tally, this has been Quagliarella’s most memorable season. A scoring run of 11 games equalled Gabriel Batistuta record of goals in consecutive Serie A games. Fighting tears he told Sky Sport Italia afterwards "Sorry, I get emotional because just to be able to imagine something like that. It's unthinkable. Just naming Batistuta gives me goosebumps." In March the forward returned to the Italian national team and became the Azzurri’s oldest ever scorer. A trip to Euro 2020 next summer remains a possibility.

Although Fabio Quagliarella’s career has been an undulating he has handled the peaks and troughs with a quiet resolution and respect, from his outrageous goals to his shirt number. Quagliarella’s ever-present number 27 is in honour of Niccolo Galli, a former friend and youth academy teammate who died in a road accident back in 2001. Napoli fans’ tribute to Quagliarella remains the most fitting, however. When news of Quagliarella’s stalker ordeal emerged, a banner at the San Paolo read: “You’ve lived through hell with enormous dignity. We will embrace you again, Fabio, son of this city.”

by Adam White 

Image: MJWho