“You’ve decided to go away!”. We are in Borås, Sweden, and it’s the end of August 2010. Napoli has just played and won against Elfsborg in the second leg of the Europa League’s third qualifying round, thus obtaining the access to the group stage.
Despite that, all the fans are concerned by another piece of news. In the minutes preceding the game, Napoli reached an agreement with Juventus for the sale of Fabio Quagliarella, the hometown hero.
The news is backed by the decision of Napoli’s coach Walter Mazzarri to bench Quagliarella for the game against Elfsborg even if though he is one of the best players in the team. The ultimate confirmation comes at the end of the game when Quagliarella joins the Napoli’s fans who travelled to Sweden in order to say his farewell.
But things don’t go the way Quagliarella expected. The fans believe that he’s a traitor, that he wants to leave Napoli rather than it being the club who want to sell him. That’s why somebody in the background unleashes his fury and starts to shout repeatedly: “You’ve decided to go away!”.
They can’t accept the fact that their hero, the guy who kisses Napoli’s badge after every goal has decided to join their arch-rival.
The problem is that they don’t know the truth. A truth that has got the features of hell on earth.
Every kid who’s in love with football shares the same dream: playing in the elite league for his favorite team. When your favorite team is the team of your hometown then your dream is even more special.
Fabio Quagliarella was born and raised in Castellamare di Stabia, a city 40 kilometers away from Naples. As every kid born in the ‘80s in that area, Quagliarella is a Napoli fan and has grown up in the myth of Diego Armando Maradona, the hero who came from Argentina and won the Scudetto twice in order to stop the anguish perpetrated by the northern cities.
Witnessing the love that Napoli fans had for Maradona, it was natural for Quagliarella to dream about being one day Napoli’s captain and receive all that love for a goal scored or even better, for the win of another Scudetto.
This is a dream that has a solid base: his talent. In the early ‘90s, Quagliarela moved to Torino where he joined the Granata’s youth outfit. In 2000, at only 17-years-old, he made his Serie A debut playing 25 minutes against Piacenza in the last game of the season.
His first full season in Serie A was the 2005-2006 campaign when he joined Ascoli as a free agent after Torino went bankrupt. With a shot from outside the box against Treviso, he scored the first of his 154 (and counting) goals in the top Italian league. After that, he joined Sampdoria and Udinese where he started to flash out his unbelievable set of skills.
Volleys from long-range, bicycle kicks, shots from the halfway line: name a type of goal and you’ll be delighted and surprised to see that Quagliarella has scored at least one in that way.
The craziest goal he ever scored early in his career probably came against Chievo for Sampdoria in 2006. With his back to the opposite goal, he stopped with his chest a very strong pass from Sergio Volpi and after the first bounce, without a single sign of doubt, he shot from 40 meters. It’s a crazy move but it’s also stroke a genius as the ‘keeper was well off his line could only watch the ball flying down from the sky and into the back of the net.
This is how strong and crazy Quagliarella was back then. He was ambitious and had an enormous amount of talent to back his style play. By the end of his fourth season in Serie A, he scored 41 goals overall. It’s no wonder that Napoli, in 2009, decided to buy him and made him the highest-paid player in the squad.
By that time, Quagliarella had already made his debut with the national team, scoring a screamer against Lithuania in his first game as a starter, and he was highly considered by coach Marcello Lippi to be a part of the squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where Italy had to defend the title they won four years prior in Germany.
Basically, he was the rising star ready to conquer Serie A and he was ready to do it by playing with Napoli, his favorite team, the team of his hometown, the team he had always dreamed to play for one day in order to make his parents proud, the team where he would have been loved like a son by every fan.
It felt like a dream, but soon it turned into a nightmare.
Four minutes into his first Serie A match with Napoli against Livorno, Quagliarella controlled the ball near the halfway line and once again, before everybody can even understand what’s going on, he tries a shot on goal. He’s some 40 metres away from the goal but such was his confidence that he would take on the madness in his stride and attempt a strike on goal. The ball hits the bar and then fall exactly on the line.
It’s a heartbreaking moment as Quagliarella falls to his knees and the crowd sighed in disbelief for what they have just witnessed. It would have been by far the best goal of his career and would’ve capped off a dream debut. That didn’t deter his spirits, though, as he went on to score twice and announce himself to the Patronepei faithful.
He would add nine more goals to his tally by the end of the season and as he recalled later, they felt like a hundred because he would celebrate each one by kissing the badge and reveling in the moment. He recognised each goal was for the city he loved and its people. The fans noticed it too – they knew he loved the club and city more than anything else and they radiated the same energy.
He was a special figure in town, a Scugnizzo, and that is why the local faithful start to call him “Masaniello”, in reference to the leader of the revolt against Habsburg Spain in 1647. With many thanks to Quagliarella, the Napoli fans can dream about the Scudetto once again, which is huge because it was just five years ago that they were in deep financial turmoil.
This new Napoli, led by Aurelio De Laurentiis, restarted in late 2004 and at the time, the club were in huge trouble, playing in the third division and hardly having the money to sustain themselves.
Fast forward to 2010 and there is now a competitive team that could do wonders. Quagliarella is supported by Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani – two competent attacking players – while the rest of the team also looks strong, ensuring that this is a side good enough to challenge for the title. That scenario, however, would never happen as the Juventus move goes through just before the start of the season.
He never requested a departure – why would he, as he was at the club of his dreams? There were no technical reasons either, no reason for Napoli to let their star man go, whilst there was also no financial needs. Several questions were raised, and the answers revealed much later, were damning.
Since 2008, when Quagliarella was plying his trade in Udine, he and his parents received hundreds of letters from an anonymous sender in which the footballer was accused of being a pedophile, a drug abuser and having links with the Camorra – the Naples crime syndicate. Things escalated when he moved to Napoli and those letters came through to De Laurentiis too, who believed they were real and decided to avoid risks and sell the player to Juventus.
The only problem was that, back then, nobody quite knew what to believe. The agent investigating this case from the Postal Police, Raffaele Piccolo, told Quagliarella to stay quiet in order to avoid any useless publicity that would, in his beliefs, help the stalker. In that way, the stalker would never have been caught.
Moving from Napoli to Turin didn’t change things for Quagliarella. The situation actually became worse. On one side, he was still receiving letters in which the accusations got worse, with some further details and screenshots of eMule files named “Fabio Quagliarella and a little girl”.
The same went for the player’s parents, who received anonymous calls in which their son’s life was threatened. While all that was going on, the animosity continued amongst the Napoli fans, who felt they were betrayed and even years after his departure, he wasn’t free to walk the streets of his hometown, with the fear overriding him.
“I’ve always felt that the fans insulted me because I was special for them otherwise they would have never cared about my move to Juventus,” said Quagliarella told in a heartbreaking TVreport aired by Le Iene in which he revealed his truth not only to Napoli fans but to the whole of Italy.
Shockingly, it was later found that that same person who was investigating the story was the stalker himself: Raffaele Piccolo.
Piccolo reached out to Quagliarella through one of the player’s friends who had a similar problem with threatening letters. He immediately made the forward file a complaint about his troubles, with the guarantee that he would send it to the nearest police department. Taking the responsibility himself, Piccolo never filed that and several subsequent complaints over the next few years, keeping the media attention and police away from his sick aims.
Between 2008 and 2015, Piccolo would send hundreds of threatening letters to Quagliarella and his parents, with no one having a hint that he was the stalker. In fact, it was during that time that Piccolo became friends with Quagliarella, getting free match tickets and autographs as a kind gesture for his apparent aid in helping the player.
The first person to have doubts about Piccolo being the stalker was Quagliarella’s father, Vittorio. During the first meeting between the two in 2015, Piccolo to Vittorio that he too started to receive threatening messages and when asked to show them, the investigator claimed that he had deleted them, raising several questions in Quagliarella Sr’s mind.
“He’s the asshole” said Vittorio to his son immediately after the meeting. Unsurprisingly, Fabio kept his faith in the police and dismissed his father’s doubts, but Vittorio didn’t stop there. He would secretly record all the conversations he had with Piccolo in order for security in the future, whilst the police later backed the father’s theories.
Piccolo was then prosecuted and in February 2017, was found guilty, receiving a near five-year sentence in prison. He was also sentenced to never work in any public office ever again, but thanks to the flaws in the Italian judicial system, he never actually spent any time in jail.
There are three degrees of justice in Italy. Piccolo was found guilty of the first, where he appealed and wasn’t obliged to go to jail. Not only was he free of prison time, but, as proved by Bleacher Report, he was still working for the police. A heinous form of justice, indeed.
The appeal process confirmed the first-degree sentence, but Piccolo never saw jail time as there was no time to fight the case again without exceeding the 10-year span – the time-limit imposed by Italian law for any case to be discussed in all three degrees from the moment the time is committed.
Basically, Piccolo is a proven guilty man walking free due. A bittersweet end to the tragic hell faced by Quagliarella, but the player never complained because of the freedom and peace he now had as a publicized professional footballer.
In January 2016, after his experiences with Juventus and Torino, he re-joined Sampdoria, where he was given the captain’s armband. He was Serie A’s top goal scorer last season – an incredible feat seeing as he was 36-years-old, played for one of the mid-table teams and faced great competition. During the same season, he was also back in the national team’s plans, as Roberto Mancini called him up for the European Championship qualifiers. He had a fairytale there as well, scoring against Liechtenstein and becoming his country’s oldest goalscorer in his country’s history.
Most importantly, though, his beloved Naples and their fans forgave him. The situation of August 2010 was forgotten and as soon as the truth came out, the fans unveiled a huge banner that read: “In the hell you lived through you had enormous dignity. One day we will hug again Fabio, son of this city.”
That was special.