After years of being shrouded with darkness, Fabio Quagliarella has emerged into the light and boy, does he look good.
Quagliarella has scored 26 goals this season in Serie A for Sampdoria – the most he’s scored in a single campaign – and five goals ahead of the great Cristiano Ronaldo as he took the Capocannoniere crown.
But it’s not been an easy journey for the 36-year-old, but it’s been a journey that’s defined the man and player he is today.
Born in Castellamare di Stabia – a commune of Naples – and brought up in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Quagliarella always wanted to play for Napoli.
Maradonna-fever gripped Napoli in Quagliarella’s early years, and it was then that the seed of his love for Napoli was planted.
But to make a start in football, Quagliarella had to travel to Northern Italy, and to Turin specifically. Torino were the club to hand him his football tutelage and he learnt his craft during stints at Fiorentina, Chieti and Ascoli before his first spell at Sampdoria.
His first venture up to the North of Italy was accompanied by immense sadness too. During Quagliarella’s first full, professional season with Torino, his childhood friend and youth academy teammate, Niccolo Galli, died in a road accident aged just 17. Quagliarella now wears the No.27 to honour his friend.
Following relatively successful spells at Sampdoria and Udinese, and after 10 years, Quagliarella’s dream move finally came and he signed for Napoli.
Like Lorenzo Insigne now, Quagliarella was adored by the Partenopei faithful. A local boy returning home to play for their hometown club is every football fans dream. And Quagliarella responded in kind, signing a five-year-deal with Napoli and suggesting he’d like to retire there, which had fans hoping for a long marriage.
But just a year later, every Napoli fans nightmare played out. Quagliarella joined Juventus.
He was labelled a traitor by the Partenopei faithful. Love turned to hate. Quagliarella became a pantomime villain in all corners of Italy.
And whilst he had to deal with this vitriol and abuse on the pitch, Quagliarella was having to deal with a lot more off the pitch.
In an interview with Mediaset, Quagliarella admitted that during his time at Napoli, he and his family were threatened by a stalker over a period of five years, which eventually led to his departure from the club.
“A stalker tormented me for over five years,” he told the TV show Le Iene. “I don’t know what was going through his mind, as he was a police officer and because of that I, at first, considered him someone to be trusted.
“Then I started getting anonymous letters with pictures of naked girls, accusing me of paedophilia, of working with the Camorra [mafia], of dealing drugs, of fixing games.
“My father received threatening messages. They told him that someone would shoot me in the head or that they’d blow up my home with a bomb.”
Due to his occupation as a police officer, the stalker was stopping any official complaints Quagliarella was making to the police and using them against the striker.
Whilst it may have begun in Naples, the stalker continued to harass Quagliarella during his time in Turin with both Juventus and Torino.
And this horrendous ordeal only ended in 2018 for Quagliarella when his stalker, Raffaele Piccolo, was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail.
Since returning to Genoa to play for Sampdoria – following a falling out with Torino fans for not celebrating after scoring against Napoli – Quagliarella has found a home.
Last season his finished with 19 goals in 25 appearances – a personal record – but this season, he’s gone one better.
With all 38 matches done, Quagliarella scored 26 goals, and also equalled Gabriel Batistuta’s all-time record of scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A matches in a single season.
And despite Italy coach Roberto Mancini’s relentless drive for a more youthful Italy side, he has brought the 36-year-old Quagliarella in to lead Italy’s frontline.
His appearance in the Azzurri’s 2-0 win over Finland in March was 3,048 days since his last cap, which had come in November 2010. Remarkably, his two goals against Liechtenstein meant he became the Azzurri’s oldest ever scorer, aged 36 years and 54 days.
Like Luca Toni – another great Italian goal-scorer who found the fountain of youth at an old age – Quagliarella is hitting his stride in the presumed final years of his career.
And whilst they are equally as impressive, Quagliarella refusal to be broken by outside influences and ability to overcome setbacks makes him one of the most likeable footballers out there.