We’ve all heard the term: ‘peaking too early’. It’s a phrase which has been common with players included in 90min’s ‘Curious Case of…’ series but now it’s time to shed light on a talent who didn’t peak until his mid-30s.
The definition of a late bloomer: Fabio Quagliarella.
Born just south of Naples, Quagliarella spent much of his youth career at Gragnano – now of Serie D – before making the switch to Torino as a 14-year-old in 1997. He developed through the ranks at I Granata into an opportunistic and intelligent forward who was blessed with a superb technique and a thunder-bastard of a right-foot.
The Italian failed to make an impact at senior level for Torino, however, and was shipped out on loan in 2002 for two consecutive campaigns. Following a barren spell at Fiorentina, Quagliarella found his feet in the lowly Serie C1 at Chieti, where he scored 17 times in 32 games.
Some of the goals he scored during that 2003/04 campaign were strikes that would later become synonymous with Quagliarella’s flamboyant style of play; from curling free-kicks to audacious acrobatic efforts.
Following the bankruptcy of Torino Calcio in 2005, the co-ownership system in Italy – which has since been removed – meant Quagliarella became something of a Serie A journeyman over the next few years.
Between 2005 and 2009 he played for Udinese, Ascoli and Sampdoria, forming a formidable strike partnership with Antonio Di Natale at I Friulani after a breakout 2006/07 campaign at Sampdoria – where he scored 13 times in Serie A and his knack of pulling off the spectacular saw him gain worldwide recognition.
Seriously, some of his strikes during his first spell at I Blucerchiati are just ludicrous.
Now an Italy international and destined for a big move away, Quagliarella achieved what he described as his ‘dream move’ at the age of 26, with his childhood fantasies morphing into reality when he made the £15m transfer to his boyhood club, Napoli.
Despite immediately establishing himself as a fan-favourite and becoming part of I Partenopei’s mightily talented attacking triumvirate alongside Ezequiel Lavezzi and Marek Hamsik, off-field issues with a stalker haunted his time at the club and he was forced to leave after just one season – moving to Juventus on an initial loan deal.
During arguably the toughest period of his career – he also tore his ACL in January 2011 – Quagliarella’s perfectly executed chip from 25 yards out in Italy’s group stage defeat against Slovakia at the 2010 World Cup reminded the world of the Italian’s awe-inspiring talent, a forward who epitomised the meaning of ‘aesthetic’ when the ball was at his feet.
After joining I Bianconeri permanently in the summer of 2011 despite his injury, Quagliarella enjoyed a mightily successful spell in Turin from a team perspective but struggled to establish himself as a star under Antonio Conte.
And when he departed for a second spell at Torino in 2014, Quagliarella – coming off a single goal campaign in Serie A with Juve – was regarded by many as a ‘has been’, a player ultimately in decline after never quite recovering from the trauma he faced in Naples just a few years prior.
Nevertheless, Quagliarella – who was 31 when he returned to Torino – teased a resurgence with a 13-league goal campaign in 2014/15 and also scored the winner in Torino’s first win over Juve for 20 years in the Derby della Mole.
His successful ’round two’ at Torino convinced fellow former employers Sampdoria to take a shot on an ageing Quagliarella in January 2016. But after an underwhelming six-months amid a torrid campaign for I Blucerchiati, it looked like their risk hadn’t quite paid off – despite his special consolation strike against Inter in February.
Reaching the milestone of 100 Serie A goals was the highlight in an impressive 12-goal 2016/17 campaign before, finally, we got the rejuvenation we’d all been waiting for under Marco Giampaolo – who’d managed Quagliarella at Ascoli over a decade prior.
Giampaolo adopted his typical 4-3-1-2 at Sampdoria (he’d arrived in 2016, by the way) which allows for constant rotations and interchangeability in the final third. This suited Quagliarella perfectly as it allowed the versatile Italian to drop a little deeper and into wide areas to kickstart quick combination play. The system was less reliant on Quagliarella’s ability to hold the ball up, something he’s never really excelled at.
The well-structured, balanced and vertical system saw Quagliarella thrive and he followed up his 12-goal season with 19 strikes in 2017/18 – the most prolific goalscoring season of his career until…
The Capocannoniere-winning campaign of 2018/19. The peak of Quagliarella’s career despite turning 36 midway through the season.
With Giampaolo’s ‘4P’s philosophy’ the mastermind, Quagliarella went on to score 26 times in Serie A – setting up a further seven – and equalling Gabriel Batistuta’s record of scoring in 11 consecutive Serie A matches in a single season, which the Argentine set in 1994.
Amid his remarkable season, Quagliarella couldn’t resist breaking the internet once more as he netted a sensational back-heeled volley against former club Napoli in September. A moment of sheer brilliance and innovation which was later nominated for the 2019 FIFA Puskas award and labelled by Quagliarella himself as the best goal of his career – and that’s something.
A return to the national team was inevitable and in Italy’s 6-0 thumping of Liechtenstein last year, he became the country’s all-time oldest scorer. And who knows, continued defiance of age could see Quagliarella sneak into Roberto Mancini’s Euro 2021 squad.
His nine-goal campaign this term has shown he doesn’t need Giampaolo holding his hand to get the very best out of him.
Quagliarella has shown the horrors of his Napoli days are a distant memory and the special talent he so often teased throughout his twenties has finally come to fore, just a decade later than the average joe.