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It was a tired smile, but it was a happy one; it held in it the sense of satisfaction and achievement after a long journey. Fabio Quagliarella jogged towards Sampdoria’s Curva, arms aloft, after he converted his penalty against Verona last weekend.
There are few, if any, associated with Italian football, who would not also smile back at him, after all he has suffered immensely with stalkers, the Camorra and bomb threats all becoming part of his life. Now as he resides in Genoa at the twilight of his career, the weight has lifted, and it shows as he is having is best season to date.
In a career that has spanned nearly two decades and seen him play for ten clubs, Quagliarella has achieved much. Three Scudetti whilst at Juventus would at first thought be the pinnacle of any Italian’s career, not Fabio’s, however; his came back in 2009 when he signed for his home town club Napoli after leaving Udinese.
The boy from Castellamare di Stabia, on the outskirts of Naples, had wanted nothing more than to play for the Partenopei, he told Mediaset last year: “I had always imagined myself as captain of Napoli; of winning something with them because they were a good team.” He went on to add sadly that: “If none of this had happened, I would still be there now.”
Naples isn’t like the rest of Italy. Perhaps the best way to explain this is to look back at the 1990 World Cup semi-final when Italy faced Argentina: Diego Maradona, then of Napoli, assumed that the feeling of being Neapolitan was so strong that he could convince them to support him and his homeland over the Azzurri.
To the large part this failed, but in the build-up to this game many wondered if it would. Naples has always been a cauldron of crime, religion, excess, poverty and, of course, football. Quagliarella knew this and was just happy to be home but he didn’t expect wat was to come.
A terrifying five-year ordeal formed the back drop of his paying career at this time, something that he only spoke about last year after his former stalker (and policeman) Raffaele Piccolo, was jailed for just under five years for his crimes. A police officer who the striker confided with throughout the events, was conducting a campaign that’s saw him accused of paedophilia, of working with the Camorra, drug dealing and match fixing. And at the same time he was receiving death threats; it is not hard to see why he left Naples. Yet, as it was to Juventus, he was hated by his own fans, until now.
With the events now behind him, he has settled in Sampdoria and looks happy again. The Napoli ultra’s who once called him a traitor had a banner back in March of 2017 that read: “You lived through hell with enormous dignity, we will embrace you again, Fabio son of this city.” Last season he finished the campaign with 12 goals and looked forward to the next even though he would be turning 35 years of age in January of 2018.
What happened next is a blissful end to this tale which still has mileage in it yet.
In context, the striker's best ever seasons have seen him net 13 times in Serie A (for three different teams). His goals have often been spectacular, important, but also inconsistent, giving him a tag of a talented striker who lacks the ability to be prolific.
This season, however, with his torment behind him, he has shaken not only his troubled past off but also his reputation as a striker. At the time of writing he has 17 goals and managed five assists, yet it is only February. He has demolished his own records and incredibly has ten goals in his last ten games, including great hat-trick against Fiorentina and even a goal against his beloved Napoli.
The statistics look even better in comparison to the others leading the race for being Capocannoniere. He has a scoring rate of a goal every 111 minutes, which is bettered only by Paolo Dybala, Mauro Icardi and Ciro Immobile, and shines Dries Mertens and Gonzaolo Higuaín.
His assists are only bettered by Simone Verdi and five others, which is also an admirable feat. The veteran striker has put his form down to being in an environment where he feels happy and the fact that he has fun with his team, whilst his coach, Marco Giampaolo, has credited it to his phenomenal fitness at his age, his confidence and experience.
If the story were to end this season then it would be one about overcoming adversity to continue doing what you love, yet continue he may do for some time.
On the one hand, if the Blucerchiati finish well, they may even be a bet for the Europa League, and, if he is fit and happy, why can he not go on? The dream ending, one may think, would be a return to Naples, but for any of those who frequent that Stadio Luigi Ferraris, they are just enjoying him have fun in his new home.