Senior Writer Sam Blitz takes a look at the remarkable career of Fabio Quagliarella, who is competing with Cristiano Ronaldo for the Serie A Golden Boot at 36 years of age.
When Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Juventus from Real Madrid over the summer, many believed that the Old Lady’s record signing would dominate the Serie A scoring charts this season. And the Portuguese superstar does indeed currently sit top of the goalscoring pecking order in Italy’s top flight with nineteen goals in twenty-six matches.
What many did not foresee was that there is a 36-year old veteran striker sitting neck-and-neck with one of the world’s hottest prospect.
A relatively well-known figure in Italian football but an obscure name on the European stage, Sampdoria striker Fabio Quagliarella not only sits level on goals with Ronaldo but also boasts a better minutes-per-goal ratio and an identical shot accuracy rate (53%) than the league’s hottest talent.
So where has this aging Italian forward come from all of a sudden, and why has he chosen now to find the goalscoring form of his career?
QuagliGol or Batigol?
At 36 years of age, Quagliarella has not exactly burst onto the Serie A scene but the last eighteen months of his career have seen a remarkable upturn in fortunes for the Italian.
After scoring a credible nineteen Serie A goals in the 2017/18 campaign, many believed that this was simply a case of Quaglirella being a so-called ‘one hit wonder’. After all, this was a player who had only scored twenty Serie A goals in two and a half years between 2015 and mid-2017.
This season, however, the Italian has hit back at critics who have claimed that last season was an anomalous campaign in his country’s top-flight; he has already matched last season’s goal tally and with ten additional games to better it and take it to the next level.
That being said, the consistency in which Quagliarella has found the target this season suggests that he has already bettered last season’s achievements. The Sampdoria forward became the first player since Gabriel Batistuta to score in eleven consecutive Serie A matches – a record that was held by the Argentinian for 25 years.
Known as ‘BatiGol’, or more simply ‘one of the greatest strikers of his generation’, Batistuta possessed both a clinical edge in goalscoring scenarios and the ability to score the most remarkable of efforts.
While the tag of ‘greatest striker of his generation’ may have passed Quagliarella by, there are shades of Batistuta in the Sampdoria forward’s game, even at his remarkably experienced age.
Quagliarella’s two goals against S.P.A.L on the weekend, his eighteenth and nineteenth goals of the current campaign, showed two sides of the goalscoring prowess that the Italian and Batistuta share. The first, an acrobatic effort whilst almost horizontal on the floor – a strike that was almost Batistuta-esque.
The second came seven minutes later, an emphatic leap which was perfectly placed in the corner to double Sampdoria’s advantage.
In fact, Quagliarella could have had a first-half hat trick on the weekend as his 35-yard looping effort beat the opposition goalkeeper all ends up, but the ball frustratingly bounced off the foot of the post and wide.
The Sampdoria forward’s ability to score the unorthodox has been well-documented this season in Italy, as Quagliarella already has two back-heeled volleys to his name (against Napoli and Chievo).
Add this to the countless overhead kicks, long-range efforts and clever flicks that the striker has graced us with over the past two decades, he is right to be considered as one of football’s most consistent finishers.
Right Man, Wrong Time
Considering the current praise that Quagliarella is receiving at 36 years of age, many have questioned what happened to the Italian forward during his prime years as a footballer and why it has taken him this long to reach the heights of his career.
The answer: bad timing. Particularly on the international stage.
Quagliarella’s first Azzurri call-up came in the autumn after Italy’s 2006 World Cup success in Germany. And despite hitting double figures in every Serie A season between 2006 and 2010, there was always the feeling that Italy had someone better to turn to during that period.
Upon getting his first call-up for the Italian national squad, Quagliarella had to compete with the likes of Luca Toni, Alessandro Del Piero, Antonio Di Natale and Antonio Cassano for a starting berth. He simply had no chance of being favoured ahead of those who helped Italy to their fourth World Cup triumph.
And what made matters worse for Quagliarella was the fact that Italy flopped in the two tournaments after their World Cup success – the only two tournaments that the now-Sampdoria striker took part in for his country. Gli Azzurri were eliminated from the 2008 European Championships by Spain, before not even getting out of the group stage in the 2010 South Africa World Cup.
Quagliarella did his best to help his country in the latter, scoring a 25-yard consolation chip in their do-or-die group match against Slovakia. Another superb strike to add to the collection. But the forward’s chance at international fame passed him by without even giving him the opportunity to thrive in it.
The 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine was the next tournament for the national squad and Quagliarella believed he had another opportunity to prove his worth on the highest stage. And why wouldn’t he? After all, he had just helped Juventus to the Serie A title – the first of three consecutive Scudettos he would win in Turin.
However, another promising striker came to the fore, in the form of Mario Balotelli. The striker’s success in helping Manchester City to Premier League glory in 2012 was deemed more valuable than Quagliarella’s domestic league title back home.
And nobody was going to stand in the way of Di Natale’s place in the squad in what he claimed was his last ever international tournament.
Italy thrived in in Eastern Europe, Balotelli shone, Di Natale almost got his perfect farewell by finishing as a Euro 2012 runner-up – Quagliarella stayed at home.
While Quagliarella has endured fierce and legendary competition in the Italian national team, hope is not yet lost for the in-form striker.
With Italian football at an all-time low following their failure to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and Balotelli showing desperate levels of inconsistency in the French league, there may just be an opportunity for Quagliarella to become the poster boy of Italian football that he deserves to be.
Carrying Tragedy on His Back
Behind all the goals and the recent upturn in Quagliarella’s fortunes lies a dark tragedy which has driven the Italian forward for the whole of his senior career.
Whilst plying his trade as a youth team academy graduate in Italy, Quagliarella befriended young defender Niccolò Galli – a promising defender who joined Arsenal in 1999 before joining Bologna on loan to finish his academic studies.
In a tragic event, Galli was killed in a road accident at the age of 17 years old in 2001. Former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger said that he was certain that the youngster would have gone on to become captain of both Arsenal and Italy, as Galli’s death stunned both English and Italian football.
Bologna have since named their training complex after him, while Quagliarella has – quite literally – carried this tragedy on his back for the whole of his career.
The striker has worn the number 27 shirt wherever he has gone – the number that Galli wore whilst at Bologna – and has kept a loyal relationship with the Galli family over the two decades since his passing.
Galli’s father Giovanni, a legendary Italian goalkeeper, describes Quagliarella as a “distant son” and that the striker has always given the family a ‘Quagliarella #27’ shirt for every club he has played for.
A tragic moment which still affects Quagliarella to this day, but makes the Italian striker’s journey to the top even more touching.
Quagliarella has already surpassed the likes of Christian Vieri, Vincenzo Montella and Andriy Shevchenko in the Serie A all-time goalscorers list – and still has names such as Hernan Crespo, Roberto Mancini and Filippo Inzaghi very much in his sights.
Whether he can surpass those totals depends on how long he can keep this incredible run going. While the book of Quagliarella’s career is surely soon to be ending, a potential re-call to the Italian national squad next week means that there might be another chapter to be written.