Fabio Quagliarella endured more than five years of harrowing paranoia, secrecy and torment.
His family were abused in the street, his beloved home city of Naples cast him out as a traitor and mysterious threats consumed his thoughts.
At last, the 36-year-old has peace. The man who turned his existence into a living hell has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison and though the mental scars remain, a chapter of almost unbelievable misfortune has closed.
During those dark days, only a handful of people understood why one of Italy’s next great hopes had become a Serie A journeyman and why a dream homecoming turned into a waking nightmare.
Now, with Raffaele Piccolo, a man Quagliarella considered a friend, in jail, there is finally some closure to the story which has left Napoli’s fiercely loyal fans begging for forgiveness.
Fabio Quagliarella signed for Napoli as a local hero but was tormented off the pitch
The club’s passionate fans felt betrayed after he left for fierce domestic rivals Juventus
It was in an emotional post-game interview that Quagliarella revealed his private anguish
The Napoli fans ended up displaying a banner for Quagliarella, asking for his forgiveness – it translates: ‘In the hell you lived…huge dignity, we will hug again Fabio, son of this city’
Quagliarella grew up in Castellammare di Stabia, a commune of Naples and like any Neapolitan boy, he envisioned himself one day scoring at San Paolo Stadium.
After bursting to prominence at Sampdoria and Udinese, the call he’d always wanted finally came in July 2009 and the forward with a habit of scoring outrageous goals signed for his dream club.
Before the move, he’d received occasional messages at Udinese accusing him of taking drugs and having links with the Camorra (Naples mafia). These sporadic notes he dismissed as the work of mentally unstable fans, just an occupational hazard in the tribal world of Italian football.
But in the interests of security, he mentioned that his messenger account had been hacked when chatting with childhood friend Giulio de Riso.
Months before, De Riso had also received letters accusing him of working for the mafia and had a contact, Raffaele Piccolo, who worked for the postal police in Naples, specialising in fraud and cyber crime.
Piccolo had helped him out on more than one occasion and De Riso introduced him to Quagliarella. The IT expert helped fix the hacked computer and was given some signed memorabilia as thanks for his efforts.
Quagliarella thought that would be an end to it but his move south to Naples coincided with a sudden increase in anonymous threats.
The Italian was one of his country’s next great hopes but his career took a dark turn
Some of the messages were confusing. They featured random letters and numbers that he took to Piccolo to examine. They looked like a virus so his police contact wiped the phone clean.
But the threats continued to escalate both in number and in severity. His parents opened mail at their home containing images of underage girls with accusations that their son had slept with them.
‘That was the worst for me. If I have to be honest, maybe it was worse for my mother. My parents had to deal with this much more than I did,’ he previously told the Bleacher Report.
On one occasion, a coffin with a picture of Quagliarella’s face nailed to the front was delivered.
Quagliarella was beside himself with worry and a sense of guilt that his loved ones were being infected with this vicious, unprovoked campaign against him.
‘I cried a lot. I am not embarrassed. I cried because I was suffering and because I could not understand who was doing it to me,’ he added.
‘I was scared for my family, my two brothers and my sisters and my eight young nephews. I would be worried that they would be in danger, maybe while going to school.’
Quagliarella was petrified that publicly confronting these private, false accusations would give them life. He thought people would always wonder about him and perhaps believe there was no smoke without fire.
The exhausting worry and stress of his ordeal began to take a toll on his performances
He leaned heavily on Piccolo, who he appreciated investigating the threats discreetly. There were screenshots sent to Quagliarella of the peer-to-peer sharing website eMule doctored with his name in the title of pornographic videos with children.
His father received texts when Quagliarella was out in the city, warning that his son had been seen and would have his legs broken that night. The fear was continuous and unrelenting.
Piccolo insisted that Quagliarella should keep his torment a closely guarded secret as his stalker was likely to be someone in his inner circle and any leaks could compromise the investigation. Team-mates and friends all came under suspicion and the trust in those around him was gradually gnawed away.
He was even told to have different friends touch a CD and then bring them for fingerprint comparison with the letters.
In the circumstances, it would be a miracle for anyone to hold down a day job, let alone someone required to perform at their best in front of 60,000 expectant fans.
Quagliarella’s form suffered. He spoke to club president Aurelio De Laurentiis every day, though never about his private anguish, and it was suggested he move closer to the stadium. He felt this was a thinly-veiled demand to refocus him on football.
After scoring for Torino against Napoli he offered an apology and refused to celebrate
He didn’t know it at the time, but the hateful mail was also being sent to the club’s head office. Napoli had seen enough. They were spooked and without warning, Quagliarella was loaned out to fierce rivals Juventus in August 2010 before joining permanently the next year.
His defection to Turin was greeted with astonishment and unmitigated fury in Naples. He’d gone from returning local hero to Judas.
Quagliarella’s mother, Susanna, was abused in the street and ultras threatened to blow up the family home.
‘Every time I went back to Naples I had to wear hats and dark glasses. I had to cover up. Sometimes my friends wanted to go out for a drink. But I couldn’t,’ he told Mediaset.
The striker was in and out of the Juventus team that won the Scudetto three times in a row before he was loaned out to Torino where he scored against Napoli and reacted by holding his hands together in prayer, offering an apology and bowing his head.
Dignified in spite of the venom spewed at him from all angles, Quagliarella was now being subjected to both public and private abuse as the threats continued.
His father Vittorio had more face-to-face dealings with Piccolo and was fed updates on the investigation. On one occasion Piccolo visited the house and mentioned that he’d also been receiving threats on his phone. Vittorio asked to see those messages but the policeman sheepishly said he’d deleted them.
Quagliarella lined up alongside Andrea Pirlo (left) and Co but was in and out of the first team
Even while at Juventus, the regular anonymous threats and accusations continued
This was unthinkable to Vittorio, who could not fathom the destruction of evidence.
‘My dad called and said, ‘I think it’s that s*** [Piccolo],’ Quagliarella later recounted.
It was the first moment of doubt about Piccolo. But for Quagliarella it was unthinkable that the unassuming, diligent policeman who had acted as a confidant during dark times was the architect of his misery.
Then came the breakthrough. Quagliarella, De Riso and their mutual friend Giovanni Barile, a lawyer from Castellammare de Stabia, took a boat out one sunny afternoon back in Naples.
The trio had agreed with Vittorio to be back home for dinner but lost track of time. Vittorio is an old fashioned man and angered by his son’s tardiness, and what he deemed as drawing unnecessary attention on the boat, he said: ‘Don’t complain you received anonymous letters, after making a show of yourself.’
Barile overheard the comment and immediately asked what kind of letters Vittorio was talking about. Quagliarella broke through the wall of secrecy and explained everything. Barile listened on in astonishment. Five years earlier he had worked in a law office with Piccolo’s wife Simona and received similar anonymous threats.
Piccolo had promised to help him out and called him one day to say letters were arriving in the police station accusing Barile of working in a child pornography ring.
He said the mayor had been emailed about it. But Barile had previously worked in local politics, he knew the mayor, went to his office and checked the email personally. There was no mention of his name and it became clear that Piccolo was lying.
Barile then furiously confronted the policeman, who denied all wrongdoing. But after that the threats dried up completely. Just three months later he found himself at the dinner table listening to Quagliarella’s story. Piccolo was the stalker, Vittorio’s hunch was confirmed and over that meal the four men hatched a plan to prove it.
The Direzione Distrettuale Antimafia are a police agency set up to combat the mafia and they led the investigation into one of their own. Piccolo’s colleagues were stunned to find that all the reports he told De Riso, Quagliarella and Barile he’d filed had never existed.
Raffaelle Piccolo (pictured) as he was seen in a video produced by Italian station LE IENE-TV
Further examination of the threatening letters showed there was a common trait with the way Piccolo wrote his work documents. He would never place a space after a comma. The evidence was stacking up. They tracked anonymous phone threats to public phones near Piccolo by getting Vittorio to ring his mobile straight away and triangulating the location. Quagliarella’s father even wore a recording device in his underwear during a meeting with the so-called policeman where he kept up the pretence of ignorance.
Eventually the DDA had enough to raid Piccolo’s house and seize all his possessions. They found he had been indiscriminate in his stalking campaigns. Doctors, lawyers and business executives were all among his targets. There was an enormous cobweb or ruined lives, all spun by this quiet, seemingly trustworthy public servant.
The enormous weight was lifted from Quagliarella’s life. ‘You cannot imagine the tension just being at home. The stalker, being a police officer, was regularly in my home and he was running the whole thing,’ he previously explained.
‘He even named some names, but when you’re inside all of this, it’s impossible to understand what’s going on.
‘I couldn’t tell anyone, not even my brothers.’
It was in an emotional post-match interview in 2017 that he first revealed his ordeal publicly.
‘This week marked the end of an off the pitch issue that had turned into a nightmare for me,’ he tearfully explained.
‘I have this huge weight taken off my shoulders and this is the real reason I had to leave Napoli and Naples. I was very happy there, but I was affected by this situation that turned into a genuine nightmare.’
Quagliarella went from strength to strength and finished last season as Serie A’s top scorer
The forward finished last season with 26 goals in the league to win the Capocannoniere
Napoli fans who had made Quagliarella’s life even more miserable instantly showed their remorse. Public opinion in his home town flipped overnight. They belted out an apology from the stands. ‘Dear Fabio, please forgive us, champion’, went the chorus.
He can walk the streets of Castellammare without a hat and dark glasses on now.
Even though Quagliarella was liberated from his private pain, there was still the matter of Piccolo’s sentencing.
The Italian judicial system is notoriously slow and there are incomprehensible loopholes to be exploited. Piccolo denied the charges and anyone accused of a crime has three attempts to prove their innocence in court. If the courts are delayed and those appeals cannot take place before a certain date, the defendant will not be tried at all.
There was a genuine concern that Piccolo would wriggle off the hook but at the end of last month, the 54-year-old was finally given four-and-a-half years in prison.
Quagliarella, a Sampdoria player since 2016, has enjoyed a renaissance since going public with his story. He scored 26 goals last season at the ripe old age of 36, five more than Cristiano Ronaldo and claimed the Capocannoniere for top scorer in the league. He was recalled to the Italy team and says he now feels ‘serene’ on the pitch.
This season has been a different story for Sampdoria and they are facing a relegation dogfight.
If a dose of perspective, dignity and serenity is required over the months ahead, they need look no further than their captain.
The 36-year-old striker is free of his stalking nightmare and savouring life in Liguria