Feature Photo: Paolo Rattini / Getty Image
In 2009, 26-year-old Fabio Quagliarella was in his athletic prime. The current Serie A top scorer, who has been making the headlines for his recent exploits with Sampdoria, was a starting forward for the Italian national team, and had just signed a dream deal to move from Udinese to Napoli. Wearing the Partenopei jersey was the childhood dream of every footballer born in the immense Neapolitan suburbia.
But Quaglia’s football honeymoon with his hometown would last only one year. The following summer, Napoli’s number 27 abruptly moved to Juventus. Despicable Juventus, the worst possible destination for a Napoli player in the eyes of their passionate fan base. It was inexplicable. Fabio Quagliarella, the son of Napoli who had made it to Serie A, and had come back to play for his own people, was now a traitor – an infame.
The reality behind his transfer would emerge only many years later, when Quagliarella – after having played for Juventus, Torino, and Sampdoria – could finally confess that he had to leave Napoli due to a stalker. On February 17, 2017, former postal police agent Raffaele Piccolo was sentenced to four years and eight months in jail for harassing Quagliarella and his family with threatening letters and messages for five years.
That’s when Fabio could finally reveal his ordeal. He did so at the end of a match with Cagliari, when he emotionally announced that his nightmare – a nightmare he had to keep secret from all but his closest people – was over.
But how could all this happen?
The story of Quagliarella’s stalker is an appalling cautionary tale about how terror and danger can come from those who are close to you. Raffaele Piccolo was a friend, a trustworthy person in the eyes of the player’s family. He had met Fabio through a common friend, shortly after his arrival in Napoli, and had helped him solve a trivial problem with his PC password.
Piccolo seemed a nice guy. A little bugging maybe, with all his requests for match tickets, autographed t-shirts, etc. The usual stuff. He did know how to win people over however, up to the point of becoming a normal presence at the Quagliarellas’.
But then, the family house started to receive threatening letters. Hundreds, and hundreds of them. Anonymous messages. Pictures of naked little girls, implying Fabio was a pedophile. Allegations of him having connections with camorra (the powerful Neapolitan mafia), and being involved in illegal betting.
Quagliarella’s father Vittorio would receive anonymous phone calls with death threats to his son. “We saw him walking on the street. We’re going to break his legs. We’re going to kill him.” One day, he found a coffin outside of the house, with a picture of Fabio on it.
How could the Quagliarellas not make the connection – the letters and calls starting to happen shortly after Piccolo entered their life – may look naïve. But only to those who have not lived the obsession of stalking. “It’s difficult to remain lucid when you’re going through it,” Quagliarella said in a TV interview once the nightmare was over. In fact, he and his family did quite the opposite: When you have a problem with anonymous threats, who better than a friend who happens to be a postal police agent to help you?
And so, Piccolo became the family’s consultant, the man who was supposedly helping them break free from the stalker. He would assist Fabio with pressing charges on ground of blackmail. He would advise him not to trust anybody – anybody but him, of course. He would keep him up-to-date with the “investigations.” “We are very close to catch him,” he would say, “We just need a little more time.”
But Fabio Quagliarella didn’t have any time left, not in Napoli. The same infamous letters he received, were also mailed to his club’s headquarters. President Aurelio De Laurentiis’ support, initially lukewarm, seemed to fade away, and turned into diffidence. Just before a pre-season match, in the summer of 2010, Quaglia learned that he had been sold to Juventus. He left his hometown like an outcast, with no chance to explain the reason behind his sudden transfer.
The most extreme wing of the Neapolitan supporters did not forgive his “treason,” going as far as starting to threaten the Quagliarella family themselves. Whenever he came back to Napoli, Fabio kept a low profile, and tried to avoid contact with people. He didn’t want to risk receiving insults he couldn’t defend from, or getting into fights with those same people who used to love him, and call him Masaniello – a historical Neapolitan-born revolutionary leader.
His career went on: Four years with Juventus, then two more with Torino. During his stint with the Granata, Quaglia showed how much he still cared for his fellow Neapolitan fans when he abstained from celebrating after scoring a penalty at the San Paolo Stadium. He rather raised his hands, put them together, and asked for forgiveness from the hardcore South Stands – an event that led to a clash with his own Torino supporters.
But even as he tried to keep his professional career going, his inner torment went on. For five years. The harassment continued, and its perpetrator seemed uncatchable. Until the stalker decided to go too far with his game, and finally made a mistake.
During one of his many conversations with Quagliarella’s father, Piccolo claimed that he too had started to receive some threatening SMS. When Vittorio asked to see it, he replied: “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I deleted it.”
We are breaking our heads to catch this bastard, Vittorio thought, and you just delete such a piece of evidence? That was an eye-opener for Mr. Quagliarella. Vittorio called his son:
“You know what? I think it’s him.”
He then went to the police headquarters, and quickly found out that none of the charges filed by the Quagliarellas had ever been recorded – as they had never left Piccolo’s hands. That led to a real police investigation, which eventually found Raffaele Piccolo guilty of blackmail and extortion. The sentence to four years and eight months was confirmed on appeal in October 2018, hopefully putting an end to his plots.
Fabio Quagliarella went on to play for Sampdoria. His performance peaked in the last two seasons, the first before the end of the nightmare, where he scored a career-best 19 and 21 goals. That cannot be just a coincidence.
Napoli’s former number 27 is now living a personal renaissance. At 36, he has just become the oldest player to have ever scored for Italy, after breaking a nine-year gap from wearing the Azzurri jersey. He is the current Serie A top scorer. And still, even with this chilling story now fully behind him, his life must be haunted by a plethora of painful what ifs.
What if some twisted mind didn’t rip him off the best years of his career?
What if he was not forced to leave the club he had always dreamed to play for?
The Partenopei supporters obviously apologized to him as soon as they learned the terrible truth behind his departure from Napoli. The first time he came back to play at the San Paolo, the South Stands dedicated him a touching banner, praising the dignity he had shown while facing that hell.
When he accepted to talk about his experience in a TV interview, Quagliarella was asked whether he would ever come back to play for Napoli. “I always had imagined myself as captain of Napoli,” he replied.
Then he added, his voice choked with emotion: “If none of this had happened, I’m sure I would still be playing there now.”