BORN IN THE TOWN of Castellammare di Stabia, beneath the brooding Mount Vesuvius, Fabio Quagliarella would have been four-years-old when his beloved Napoli won the Scudetto and Coppa Italia in 1987. Led by the magical Diego Maradona, the Partenopei pipped Juventus by three points to win Serie A for the first time in their history. And whilst it may have been a little too early in his life for Quagliarella to remember, Napoli’s league triumph just three years later would be one etched into his memory.
“I remember the atmosphere in the city when Maradona was there,” he told Guerin Sportivo in 2011. In 1990, when Maradona guided Napoli to their last league title, Quagliarella would have been seven and his brother Adriano fondly remembers how Fabio idolised the beloved Maradona. Speaking in 2012, Adriano said: “Our room was a little football museum. The massive poster of Maradona and many photos of us two. We fought so many times over his [Maradona] Panini sticker. Fabio dreams of meeting him.”
A Neapolitan through and through, Quagliarella got his dream move in 2009, when he joined Napoli from Udinese for €18 million. It wasn’t an easy journey, though, for the striker, who had been forced to travel north in order to return home to Campania in the south.
Quagliarella began his professional career at Torino and made his debut for the Granata in 2000 after coming on as a late substitute in a 2-1 home victory over Piacenza. In that season, Torino found themselves relegated to Serie B, yet Quagliarella struggled for game time and was instead sent out on loan in 2002 to Fiorentina, who were at the time languishing in Serie C2. After 12 games and just one goal in return, Quagliarella was sent back to Turin, only to be shipped off to Chieti, a Serie C1 side.
In his sole season at Chieti, Quagliarella managed to score 19 times in 43 games and earned the chance to prove his worth at his parent club. He spent the 2004/05 season in Turin, scoring seven times in 34 games, as the club earned promotion back into Serie A.
Despite this, he would be on the move again. That year, Torino’s financial issues came to a head and would ultimately lead to the club effectively ceasing to exist. Years of debts accumulating under previous administrations weighed heavy, and the club found themselves barred from playing in Serie A. After a lengthy appeals process, Torino were eventually denied entry once more and the club was forced into bankruptcy. As a result of this, Quagliarella was released.
Following his departure, Quagliarella enjoyed spells at Ascoli, Sampdoria and Udinese. But it was in Udine that Quagliarella really made a name for himself and where he proved to be a reliable striker. Partnered alongside the prolific Antonio Di Natale, Quagliarella performed well enough for Udinese to earn himself a place in Italy’s squad for the 2008 European Championships.
Following the tournament, Quagliarella picked up where he left off, managing to score 21 times in all competitions for Udinese, his best season in football to date. As a result of his strong performances, the club he had longed to represent, Napoli, came calling. His joy was clear to see, and speaking at the time, he said: “Napoli has always been my dream and today I am very happy because that dream has come true.”
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The move wasn’t just significant for the man himself, though. His community back home in Castellammare were yearning to see him don the blue of Napoli. Speaking with StabiaChannel back in 2009, a local Coffee Bar owner, Romolo Russo, encapsulated the local jubilation at seeing a ‘Stabiese’ join the Partenopei: “When it’s official, we will have a big party here at the bar” he said. “And then we will do everything to open a club in Napoli named after him. This is a dream, not only for him, but for his family and all his friends that saw him grow up and mature. Everyone, especially him, had the dream to one day wear the Napoli jersey.”
A regular for the Azzurri and a star at his childhood club, all seemed to be well for Quagliarella. That year he played a key role in helping Napoli reach European qualification, alongside Edinson Cavani and Ezequiel Lavezzi. And in the summer, he was picked to represent Italy at the World Cup in South Africa, completing yet another childhood aspiration.
Although the Azzurri were knocked out in the group stages of the tournament, Quagliarella scored a magnificent goal in the team’s final game.
Marcello Lippi’s side were 3-1 down to Slovakia as Quagliarella found himself 25-yards out from goal with just one thing on his mind. He took a glance up at the Slovakian goalkeeper Ján Mucha, set himself to shoot and as time seemed to stand still, he sent a dinked ball into the top right-hand corner of the net. His strike narrowed the scoreline, but proved to be too little too late.
Despite all of the positives on the pitch, Quagliarella’s life off of it was far from the dream come true that everyone thought it was. Only recently has it emerged what Quagliarella was forced to go through during his time in Naples and only now has he received redemption for the abuse he suffered, as a result of leaving the club, due to what was happening to him.
Unbeknown to all, apart from his close family and friends, Quagliarella was the victim of a stalker, who regularly sent him death threats and attempted to blackmail him, accusing him of collecting child pornography and being a gangster, amongst other things. “A stalker tormented me for over five years,” he told Mediaset. “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.”
Initially, Quagliarella had contacted a policeman who specialised in computers and online security, on the recommendation of his friend Giulio, to help resolve a password problem he was having trouble with. Shortly after meeting the said policeman, Raffaele Piccolo, he started to receive letters from an unknown source, threatening text messages and even a coffin.
“Then I started getting anonymous letters with pictures of naked girls, accusing me of paedophilia, of working with the Camorra, 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,” he explained. “One time they even delivered a coffin with my picture in it.”
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In hope of finding the culprit of the targeted harassment he was receiving, Quagliarella contacted the policeman, Piccolo, who had helped him with his password difficulties. Piccolo would visit Fabio’s home, telling the striker that they would soon track down whoever was tormenting him. “The stalker had almost become one of our family, as he kept assuring he’d find the person responsible,” said Quagliarella. “The stalker, being a police officer, was regularly in my home and he was running the whole thing. He asked us to take some people’s fingerprints, kept saying ‘we’re nearly there, just a little longer’.”
As a result of the threats and the feeling that the situation was only worsening, tragically, Quagliarella didn’t feel safe back at home, in the city he loved more than any other. “Any tiny gesture became a danger, once you knew about these threats. You felt constantly observed, threatened, always looking to see who was eyeing you sideways. You cannot imagine the tension in my home.”
The attack wasn’t just limited to Quagliarella’s home life, though. Napoli also started to receive letters, which ultimately resulted in the striker being sold on to Juventus after just one season at the club. “Those letters I received at home, he would also send to my club. Before the away trip to Sweden [in the UEFA Cup], they called me and said I would not play because I was sold to Juventus. It was the first I’d heard of it.”
It was a cruel end to his time at Napoli. As the news quickly spread that he would be leaving for the loathed Juventus, the Napoli faithful, oblivious to their hero’s suffering, began to target Quagliarella. “People accused me of leaving Napoli for money, but that was not true and really annoyed my family,” he explained. “The fans cared for me and felt betrayed, but they couldn’t know the real reason I left. They saw me becoming their captain, of winning something with the team.”
This was an ambition, not only the fans held, but one that he too wished to fulfil himself. Now at Sampdoria once again, Quagliarella said: “I imagined myself as captain of Napoli; of winning something with them because they were becoming as good a team as they are now – a great team. If none of this had happened, I am certain I would still be playing there now.”
Home to the infamous Camorra, Naples is a city with its faults; organised crime and corruption are major problems. Yet despite these issues, its football fans are perhaps more passionate for their team than any other in the country. Unlike Milan, Turin and Rome, Naples is a one-club city for all intents and purposes. There are smaller clubs within the city, coming in the form of Neapolis and Internapoli, but neither have ever challenged amongst the upper echelons of Italian football like Napoli have.
Before the details of his ordeal came out, returning to Naples was a challenge for Quagliarella. He would be forced to disguise himself, in fear of the abuse that he would no doubt receive. “Each time I went back to Naples, I had to cover my head and face to hide my identity because I was scared of somebody recognising me and saying something to me,” he told Mediaset. “When my friends invited me out, I had to say no. I can’t argue with my people. They don’t deserve it and I don’t deserve it, so I kept telling myself ‘I hope that day comes’ and the wait is now over – it has finally arrived.”
Eventually, after five years of misery, Quagliarella’s nightmare was over. “In the end, my father figured it out,” he said. “He realised the authorities never got my formal complaints because the stalker was keeping them all to himself.”
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It was a stroke of luck that led to Fabio’s father, Vittorio, to uncover the truth. Vittorio met one afternoon with Piccolo to discuss the situation further, after receiving yet more threatening messages himself. Piccolo told Vittorio that he too had now been contacted by the elusive stalker, and that the stalker knew that Piccolo was the man in charge of tracking him down.
It was then that Vittorio asked Piccolo whether he could possibly see the messages sent to him by the stalker. Thrown off guard by the request, Piccolo claimed that he had deleted them, which aroused some suspicion with Vittorio. After all, here was the man – a police officer no less – who was in charge of finding this stalker, and he of all people had deleted evidence that may be vital to the case. Once the pair had parted ways, Vittorio immediately rang his son. “My dad called and said ‘I think it’s that shit’ [Piccolo],” said Quagliarella. “I said that we were all stressed by this hellish situation, and mustn’t doubt him of all people. But you know what? My dad is switched on.”
Certain that he was onto something, Vittorio went to the local police station to see the logs of evidence with his own eyes. For years, he and his son had been giving evidence to Piccolo, who had told them that he would take care of everything. To his horror, when he arrived at the police station he was told that there was no such evidence. There wasn’t a trace of the years of testimony and documentation that they handed over to Piccolo. It wasn’t anywhere to be found.
As a result of Vittorio’s epiphany, the police launched their own investigation and too came to the conclusion that it was Piccolo all along. The now ex-policeman was sentenced to four years and eight months in prison on grounds of blackmail and extortion.
Following Sampdoria’s 1-1 draw with Cagliari in February, in which he scored the equalising penalty, Quagliarella laid bare all that had happened to the public for the first time. “Believe me, it’s a massive weight off my shoulders,” he said to Samp TV. “Justice has won. I’ve been through the mill over the past few years. I could not speak up for myself because the investigation was ongoing. I’ve had to deal with terrible things being said about me.”
“This is the start of a second life for me – a happier one. It’s not good when you are away from home and you know anything can happen because there are bad people around. It’s hard. It’s hard to go out on the pitch and entertain people. I tried to be professional, but sometimes it crept in. I always tried to be as professional as possible. As of last Friday, my life is much more tranquil – just like we all deserve.”
Upon realising the truth of their former son’s nightmare, the Napoli fans quickly rescinded their ill-feelings towards him. And in Napoli’s following game against Crotone, after the news was revealed, the fans unfurled a banner, reading: ‘You’ve lived through hell with enormous dignity. We will embrace you again, Fabio, son of this city’.
After all that Quagliarella had been through, after seeing his dream come to an abrupt end, hearing that the Napoli faithful would want him to return forced him into responding. Despite being content at Sampdoria, he said: “I have unfinished business at Napoli. If they asked me to come back, it would be wonderful. It would be great, it would be fantastic even if they only had the idea to take me back. When I look back at my career, I look back to my time there and I see unfinished business. It’s like you’re faced with an open goal and are about to shoot, and then somebody takes the ball away.”
Romance aside, at 34, Quagliarella is unlikely to make a dramatic return to Naples. However, there’s always that hope for the son of this city. Despite all its faults, Naples is a city capable of forgiveness, where grudges are only held for those that have sinned against it. Following his redemption, Quagliarella can be sure that he will be welcomed back with open arms once more
By Matt Aldridge @MattAldridge31