Fabio Quagliarella Rediscovers the Meaning of Football Paradise at Sampdoria

Dealing with a stalker and then suffering a serious knee injury would affect anyone, not just a footballer or any other professional athlete.

Former Italian international Fabio Quagliarella experienced those things in nearly 20 years as a professional career, but at the age of 35, he has been able to overcome those ordeals and he remains as one of the most lethal strikers in Serie A.

He was stalked while he played for Napoli and injured his knee at Juventus but he gradually got his career on track before a return to Sampdoria revived his career in a manner not many people would have anticipated.

Born on January 31, 1983 in Castellamare di Stabia, a town situated 30 kilometres away from Naples in southern Italy, Quagliarella grew supporting Napoli as a boy and he played for a local side called Gragnano in his youth before he was discovered by Torino. He made his Serie A debut for the Granata on the final day of the 1999/2000 season and they had already been mathematically relegated so the 2-1 victory was in vain. Coach Emiliano Mondonico had put him on at half-time to replace Gennaro Scalato but he only played for 25 minutes before he was replaced by Jacopo Mariani.

The player who scored the opening goal of the match was Piacenza striker Alberto Gilardino, who was also 17 years old and he would become a future teammate of the Toro striker with the national team. Gilardino scored his third league goal for the bottom team in that season while Quagliarella had to wait five more years to his first Serie A goal. After failing to play a single match in 2000/01 Serie B season and making just four appearances in the following season when the club returned to Serie A, Torino decided to send him on loan for the 2002/03 season to Serie C2 club Florentia Viola, which had formed from the ashes of the recently bankrupt Fiorentina.

Unfortunately, he was not able to establish himself as a regular starter in attack and his only goal for the Florentines came in a 3-2 away win against Gualdo on September 22, 2002 to put the side 3-0 up in the second half. It was a scrappy goal but one of great persistence from the youngster wearing the number 11 jersey. Journeyman striker Christian Rigano was the hero for the Tuscans scoring 30 times in 32 games as the club earned promotion to Serie B, bypassing Serie C1 in the process. With one strike to his name in 12 appearances, he was sent on loan to Serie C1 club Chieti for the second half of the season and he wore the number 11 jersey again. He showed his raw talent and ability to improvise but the accuracy was lacking.

Chieti took his services again on loan for the 2003/04 season and it was there he started to find his scoring touch, scoring 17 goals in 32 games. The young striker wore the number 10 jersey and he started scoring the type of goals that would later become synonymous with his style of play. There was his low and angled drive in the 2-1 away win to Martina after cutting-in beating a
defender, a curling free-kick in the 2-0 home win against Benevento, and his volley in the 5-0 home demolition of Acireale but nothing was as spectacular as his bicycle kick against Crotone in a 2-1 home victory after a cross from the right-wing.

Torino decided to keep him for the following season and he contributed to their push for Serie A promotion, scoring seven goals in 34 games and then scoring one against Ascoli the Serie B play-offs. Neither one of those goals possessed the audacity he would become renowned for but he showed that he also had the predatory instincts of an out-and-out striker. Although the Granata defeated the Picchio as well as Perugia in the play-offs, the club had accumulated heavy debts and were declared bankrupt in August 2005 while the new entity had to commence in Serie B.

This meant that Quagliarella had become a free agent and he was signed by Udinese. He was still earned the opportunity to play in the 2005/06 Serie A season after joining Ascoli on a loan spell and the club from the Marche region were promoted at the expense of Toro as well as Genoa, who were demoted to Serie C1 for match-fixing.

During that season he worked with Marco Giampaolo for the first time in his career. Giampaolo had coached Il Picchio in this previous campaign with Massimo Silva alongside him due to a lack of coaching qualifications and this arrangement continued in Italy’s top flight.

Against all expectations, Ascoli survived relegation under the inexperienced Giampaolo, but it was not the breakthrough season Quagliarella had hoped for. Although he managed to break his Serie A duck in a 1-0 victory against Treviso in December 2005, he only scored three goals in 33 matches while his former Torino teammate Marco Ferrante scored eight times and Sasa Bjelanovic found the back of the net on seven occasions.

Despite the lack of scoring prowess from the Stabiese striker at Ascoli, it was not the last time that he would be coached by Giampaolo and the duo would develop a more fruitful work relationship in the future.

The Castellamare di Stabia native was on the move again and he joined Sampdoria for the 2006/07 season after the club purchased half of his ownership rights from Udinese for €1.5 million. It was also the first season in which he wore the number 27 on his jersey in memory of former teammate Niccolo Galli, who passed away in a road accident in February 2001.

Galli was the son of former Italy goalkeeper Giovanni Galli and he had played in the Italy Under-18 team with Quagliarella. The 17-year- old wore the number 27 when he was at Bologna and Campanian forward wears it whenever possible as a tribute to his friend.

When he arrived at the Genoese club, his new coach Walter Novellino was having issues with his strikers. Emiliano Bonazzoli and Fabio Bazzani struggled with injuries while Francesco Flachi was banned for match-fixing so Novellino had to turn to the former Ascoli striker for goals. Quagliarella did not disappoint as he went on to score 13 goals in 35 Serie A matches including a
period in which he provided nine strikes in 16 games.

Not only did he make his career breakthrough, but he scored goals with great panache and audacity. Despite not scoring in his first five Serie A games, Novellino persisted with him and he scored his first two league goals for the Blucerchiati in a 3-2 defeat away to Atalanta.

His first goal was a right-foot strike from outside of the box after performing a 180-degree turn and shaking off two defenders while the second was a sumptuous left-foot chip over La Dea goalkeeper Alex Calderoni. He scored from a tight angle in a 2-0 win against Lazio but it was in Round 11 at home to Chievo in which he made jaws drop. Il Doria won 3-0 and Quagliarella netted a spectacular brace. His opener came from a 90-degree turn before unleashing a thunderous right-foot shot from about 30 metres while the second came after an error from Flying Donkeys goalkeeper Vincenzo Sicignano, who failed to punch the ball cleanly, and that allowed the Blucerchiati striker to beat a defender to the ball, turn around, and unleashed an angled drive from the left side of the penalty area that took a bounce before it end up in the net.

The outrageous goals continued such as his overhead kick in the 1-0 win against Reggina which saw him land on his feet despite the acrobatic effort but no goal has defined his career like his lob in the 1-1 draw against Chievo in Verona. It was in Round 30 of the 2006/07 Serie A season and he gave Samp the lead after he controlled Sergio Volpi’s powerful pass on the chest before rapidly turning and lobbing goalkeeper Lorenzo Squizzi from over 40 metres.

Italy coach Roberto Donadoni gave Quagliarella his senior national team debut in March 2007 against Scotland in a European Championship qualifier. It was his third cap for the Azzurri in another Euro 2008 qualifier against Lithuania in which people took notice of the emerging striker, who started for his country for the first time and scored both goals in the 2-0 victory.

For the first goal, he received the ball near the right midfield position and beat a defender as he turned to his left. He proceeded towards the penalty area before striking a rocket of a shot with his left foot from about 25 metres. Before half-time, he added to Italy’s tally by flicking Andrea Pirlo’s pass in the air and hitting a volley with his right foot from just outside of the penalty area.

With his value on the rise, Quagliarella was proving to be a scorn for Serie A defenders but a deal could not be negotiated for the full ownership of the Campanian striker so in the summer of 2007, Sampdoria and Udinese went into a blind action for him. The Blucerchiati offered €6.5 million whereas the Zebrette had put a bid forward of €7.3 million, therefore he moved to Udinese for the following season.

It was at Udinese where he formed a lethal attacking trident with Simone Pepe and Antonio Di Natale as the Zebrette earned a UEFA Cup spot after finishing in seventh place in Serie A while Quagliarella scored 12 times in 37 games throughout the 2007/08 campaign. His strikes did not have the same degree of difficulty as his goals at Sampdoria but five of them did come from outside of the penalty area so his ability to shoot from long range still remained.

Euro 2008 was his first major tournament for Italy but his playing time was limited, only earning 13 minutes in the 1-1 draw against Romania during the group stage as the Azzurri were eliminated by eventual winners Spain in the quarter-finals on penalties.

If his first major tournament gave him limited opportunities to demonstrate his mercurial talents, he 2008/09 UEFA Cup gave the Campanian forward a chance to play in a European competition for the first time. It proved to be his best season in Europe’s knock-out tournaments as he scored eight times in 11 games, outscoring the often-talismanic Di Natale, and only CSKA Moscow striker Vagner Love and Hamburg attacker Ivica Olic scored more than him in that season’s edition with 11 and nine goals respectively.

Unfortunately, the Zebrette were eliminated by German club Werder Bremen in the quarter-finals but he tried to keep his team in the tie with two goals in the second leg before they succumbed to the eventual finalists 6-4 on aggregate.

His scoring rate in Serie A was not as impressive but he still managed to score 13 times in 36 matches and the standout goal in that season was in a 2-0 victory against Catania in Round 9. Antonio Floro Flores played a through-ball and the Elefanti goalkeeper Albano Bizzarri charged too far out of his area. Quagliarella then ran onto the pass, dribbled around Bizzarri, and from just outside the left side of the penalty area, he chipped the ball past two defenders. Another great strike from that season was a scissor kick in the semi-circle outside of the penalty area in the 2-2 draw away to Napoli in Round 22.

The Neapolitans did acquire him for €18 million in the summer of 2009, and although things seemed fine on the field by scoring 11 goals in 34 league matches, things were troublesome of it. Transferring to Napoli was intended to be the move of his dreams but his spell with the Partenopei sadly became a nightmare due to a policeman named Raffaele Piccolo, who was stalking him, his family, and his friend Giulio De Riso. This was only made public in February 2017, when Piccolo was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison after being found guilty for stalking and slander.

Italy coach Marcello Lippi selected him for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but he only managed to gain playing time in the second half against Slovakia. In 45 minutes, he performed at a much higher standard than the other Italian players.

He scored with an audacious lob outside of the penalty area and he was often looking to score or at least provide an assist for a teammate. Despite his best efforts, Italy crashed out of the World Cup with a 3-2 defeat to the Slovakians, and he had to be consoled by Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro after he was seen crying once the final whistle blew.

Due to the stalker scenario which was impacting on his life away from football, he left Naples in 2010 and Juventus paid €4.5 million to the Partenopei to acquire him on loan. Things looked promising in Turin as he had scored nine goals in 17 Serie A matches and La Vecchia Signora were second on the table but he suffered a season-ending knee injury and the club plummeted down to an eventual seventh-place finish. This setback did not deter Juve from signing him permanently for €10.5 million.

During that season, he scored some goals that were as freaky and outrageous as his ones at Sampdoria. Although he scored with some impressive diving headers, the clear standout though was against Chievo as he scored with an acrobatic bicycle kick in a 1-1 draw in Verona after Vincenzo Iaquinta mis-hit his own attempt.

In that season, he also played his last international for Italy in a 1-1 draw against Romania. Although the FIGC credits the Azzurri’s goal to Quagliarella, most other sources attribute it to Romanian striker Ciprian Marica, and despite earning call-ups since then, he has not stepped onto the field since that November 2010 friendly. Currently his record stands at six goals in 26 caps.

Quagliarella was finally winning domestic honours including three Serie A titles but his fitness limited the impact he could have on games and Coach Antonio Conte was placing more faith in Alessandro Matri and Mirko Vucinic in attack. Arguably his best performance for La Vecchia Signora after the knee injury was in a 6-1 victory away to Pescara in Round 12 of the 2012/13 season. He provided two assists and scored a hat-trick including one from an audacious overhead kick at the far post after an Andrea Pirlo corner.

His time at Juventus did give him the opportunity to play in the Champions League in two seasons. He scored four goals in seven matches in 2012/13 as the Bianconeri reached the quarter-finals as well as two in four games in the following season. The 2013/14 season was a real disappointment for Quagliarella, who scored just once in 17 Serie matches, and he returned to Torino in 2014 after they had sold forwards Ciro Immobile to Borussia Dortmund and Alessio Cerci to Atletico Madrid.

By then he was 31 years old but he showed that he could still make an impact on the scoresheet, finding back of the net 13 times in 34 Serie A games, including a hat-trick against former club Sampdoria in a 5-1 victory. Despite scoring predominantly with textbook strikes, he did score one in the 2-1 defeat against Napoli from a tight angle, and he scored from a rare free-kick in the 2-1
victory away to Atalanta. Quagliarella has played for a plethora of clubs but he did not celebrate when he scored against his former teams in that season and he has continued not to do so since then.

His playing time in the Europa League was limited but he scored in a qualifier against Swedish club Brommapojkarna, which the Granata won 4-0, and he found the back of the net three times in 11 games in the competition proper. One of them was a goal from the penalty spot in the dramatic 3-2 win against Athletic Club in Bilbao, Spain to take Toro into the Round of 16 before they were eliminated by Russian club Zenit St Petersburg.

Although he made an adequate start to the 2015/16 season with Torino scoring five times in 16 games, he made a return to another former employer Sampdoria in January. It was a season of struggle and embarrassment for the Blucerchiati as they were eliminated in the Europa League qualfiers by Serbian club Vojvodina Novi Sad and they only secured their Serie A survival in the second-last round despite losing the Derby della Lanterna 3-0 to Genoa. Quagliarella was not overly impressive either, scoring just three times in 16 matches, but his daisycutter in the 3-1 defeat away to Inter was another goal for the highlights reel.

Before the 2016/17 season commenced, Coach Vincenzo Montella left for AC Milan and he was replaced by Marco Giampaolo from Empoli. Quagliarella was reunited with his former mentor at Ascoli but both coach and player had improved since then in their respective roles. The striker had improved his goal sense and ability to improvise while the tactician had some rough spells at Cesena and Brescia before rediscovering his touch at Cremonese, which prompted Empoli to give him another opportunity to coach in Serie A.

Under Giampaolo he has become a striker that does his damage in the penalty area and plays off the last line of defenders instead of playing as a forward, who constantly attempts to score outrageous goals. He has demonstrated great pace despite his age and the intelligence to make the right run into spaces or shrug off defenders.

During the 2016/17 Serie A campaign, he played alongside the solid but quick Colombian striker Luis Muriel while Portuguese playmaker Bruno Fernandes played behind him and Czech striker Patrik Schick made cameo appearances from the bench. Quagliarella finished with 12 league goals while Muriel and Schick scored 11 times each.

It was during that season in which the Campanian striker scored his 100 th goal in a dramatic 3-2 victory at home to Sassuolo in Round 13. Il Doria were 2-0 down after 84 minutes but the veteran striker turned the game around with that goal and provided the assist for Muriel to level the scores.

Squad stability is a rare thing at Sampdoria and parts of the Blucerchiati team were dismantled in the summer of 2017, with Muriel being sold to Spanish side Sevilla, Fernandes returning to his native Portugal to play for Sporting CP, and Schick transferred to Roma.

This season, Quagliarella has remained the focal point in the Doria attack while his support cast consists of the combative Colombian striker Duvan Zapata and the enigmatic Uruguayan attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez. The energetic and direct Gianluca Caprari was signed from Inter and he often comes on as a second-half substitute.

Despite those changes to Sampdoria’s offensive department, the 35-year- old is having the best season of his career by finding the back of the net on 18 occasions. Incredibly he commenced the season with four goals in the first three matches and he scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 victory against Fiorentina in Round 21.

For a while, it seemed that the Blucerchiati were in contention for a Europa League spot, but their form in the second half of this season has seen then slowly drop out of contention. Although European qualification is increasingly unlikely, that should not take any gloss of Quagliarella’s individual performances.

The Castellamare di Stabia native provides Il Doria with a reference point in attack as well as additional experience on the field for his young teammates. Due to the mixed form and fitness of teammates Emiliano Viviano and Vasco Regini, Giampaolo has decided to make him the captain on a regular basis.

Fabio Quagliarella has been through some turbulent moments throughout his career but a return to Sampdoria has seen him produce arguably the best the form in nearly 20 years of senior football. Now with those harrowing ordeals behind him, he is evergreen and keen to play football his way.

By: Vito Doria

Photo: Paolo Rattini/Getty Images