ROME (AP) — At 35, Fabio Quagliarella is playing to make up for lost time — and lost opportunities.
After being forced to leave hometown club Napoli because of the actions of a stalker who nearly ruined his career, Quagliarella is enjoying the most productive period of his professional life.
The Sampdoria striker matched Gabriel Batistuta’s record Serie A scoring streak Saturday by finding the net in his 11th straight match.
“Just the idea of hearing the name of a champion like Batistuta gives me goosebumps,” Quagliarella said after scoring twice and setting up another goal in Sampdoria’s 4-0 win over Udinese.
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Quagliarella’s infectious smile these days comes in sharp contrast to the way he broke down in tears two years ago when he first revealed publicly how a policeman who he knew wrote threatening letters to him, his family and to Napoli.
Quagliarella achieved his boyhood dream when he signed a five-year deal with Napoli in 2009 — only to leave the club a year later for rival Juventus.
It wasn’t until 2017, after Quagliarella’s stalker had been sentenced to nearly five years in prison, that the player detailed how the barrage of letters sent to Napoli implicating his involvement with organized crime and drug use prompted Napoli to sell him to Juventus against his will.
The local backlash against Quagliarella was so strong that it became difficult for him to visit his hometown, Castellammare di Stabia, and the surrounding Neapolitan metro area.
So it’s no coincidence that since the stalking case was settled, Quagliarella has enjoyed the best two seasons of his career.
His 19 goals last season were a career-high and he already has 16 this season to top the league chart — with one more goal than Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus) and Duvan Zapata (Atalanta).
Quagliarella’s production has helped Sampdoria to sixth place, only two points below the Champions League places.
With 143 goals in his Serie A career, Quagliarella leads the active list by a large margin ahead of Mauro Icardi of Inter Milan (119 goals) and Sergio Pellissier of Chievo Verona (111 goals).
“His physical and mental condition is extraordinary,” Sampdoria coach Marco Giampaolo said. “But to break a record like that you’ve got to be a great player. He’s worked a lot on his reaction time and quickness.”
In his scoring streak, which started in October, Quagliarella has produced 14 goals — one more than Batistuta scored for Fiorentina in the opening 11 matches of the 1994-95 season.
Quagliarella’s performance could result in a return to Italy’s squad more than eight years after his last appearance for the national team.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini attended Quagliarella’s last match and was also once a Sampdoria player.
However, Mancini has made a commitment to rely on younger players as Italy attempts to rebuild following its failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup.
“It’s fair that Mancini has to make his choices,” Quagliarella said. “It’s right that he moves forward with the same group of players. I’m only interested in going out onto the field and enjoying myself.”
The outpouring of affection toward Quagliarella after all he has been through has been so great that even Genoa, Sampdoria’s biggest rival, congratulated him on matching Batistuta’s record. For a city still recovering from the Morandi Bridge collapse in August, which killed 43 people, there has been a new sense of unity.
“We’re honored to be Genovese and have such a strong rival as you in the city,” Genoa tweeted above a photo of Quagliarella and Genoa player Domenico Criscito. “Congratulations.”
No doubt there were will be more emotions next weekend when Quagliarella and Sampdoria visit Napoli.
Probably more goals, too.
After all, there’s lost time to make up for.
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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf