Sampdoria’s Christmas gift to their supporters was news of a contract extension for Fabio Quagliarella. With the evergreen forward receiving admiring glances from Serie A rivals, the Blucerchiati have moved swiftly to tie down their talisman for a further two years. The renewal has been widely lauded by Sampdoria tifosi and represents just reward for Quagliarella, who has sustained outstanding form since returning to the Marassi in early 2016.
Just a few weeks short of his thirty-sixth birthday, Quagliarella embodies the final throes of Italian football’s previous generation. He is one of the final remaining links to the World Cup winning side of 2006. Although not capped himself until the following year, Quagliarella played either with or against all of that victorious squad.
Quagliarella has had a somewhat nomadic career, beginning at Torino before substantive stays at Ascoli, Sampdoria, Udinese, Napoli and Juventus. He spent no more than two years at each of those clubs, the sole exception being four years at Juventus, where he was primarily deployed as an impact player from the bench.
Over the course of his career, Quagliarella has been consistent, but never devastating in front of goal. He hit double figures in eight of his last twelve seasons, but never scored more than 13 league goals prior to re-joining Sampdoria in 2016. However, what he didn’t produce in terms of quantity he made up for in quality. Quagliarella’s knack for the audacious and spectacular earned him the fabled reputation of a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goal scorer.
Following his 19-goal haul in 2017/18, Quagliarella has carried his form into the current campaign. He is the first player to score in nine consecutive Serie A matches since David Trezeguet in 2005 – and still has the opportunity to extend that streak. Overall, he has notched 12 goals and 5 assists in just 18 matches. The pick of the bunch was undoubtedly his impish finish against former club Napoli; airborne, he flicked the ball with the inside of his heel past a sprawling David Ospina. This rich form is made all the more remarkable by the fact he missed a large swathe of pre-season nursing a groin injury. Quagliarella is even being linked with a return to the Italy squad, more than 8 years since he last donned the Azzurri shirt.
Under the guidance of Marco Giampaolo, Quagliarella appears to have found his spiritual home with the Blucerchiati. Over the course of three years at the club, he is averaging roughly a goal every other game. Here we look at the reasons for this late flourish in Quagliarella’s career;
When Quagliarella eventually retires, the legacy for which he will be remembered will be a catalogue of spectacular goals including long range rockets, audacious lobs and acrobatics. However, the fans of the clubs he has played for will also reflect on the physical strength that allows him to jostle with defenders and his intelligent movement in and around the box which creates openings for himself and others. And he can still finish too. Far from waning with the passage of time, these physical and technical attributes appear to have ripened.
Marco Giampaolo rarely diverges from the possession-based, attacking 4-3-1-2 that has brought him success at both Empoli and Sampdoria. He sets up his team in a way that is capable of bringing out the best in his players both individually and collectively. Under this framework he has nurtured raw talents such as Milan Skriniar, Patrick Schick and Lucas Torreira, with all three securing big money moves on the basis of their form for Samp. Perhaps more impressive though is his ability to rejuvinate others, such as Gaston Ramirez and Gregoire Defrel, who were on a downward trajectory before Giampaolo’s intervention. Another example is Edgar Barretto, at thirty-four years of age, he is arguably now playing the best football of his career in a Sampdoria shirt. On this evidence, the ascendancy of Quagliarella cannot be seen as coincidence.
A system that suits
Quagliarella has been one of the few constants during Giampaolo’s three-year tenure at Samp. He has typically been paired with a younger and willing runner (whether Schick, Zapata or Defrel) to apply a high press to the opposition centre backs in possession. Meanwhile, the highly capable flanking midfielders (Praet, Linetty or Jankto) put pressure onto the opposing full backs. This approach allows Quagliarella to drop off, enabling him to capitalise from the turnover of the ball in dangerous positions. With the ball, the presence of an industrious number 10 (Ramirez or Caprari), who is able to thread through balls into the strikers, or to bring overlapping full backs in to the attack, has proven key to the volume of chances created for Quagliarella.
Finally and perhaps most importantly. Seven years of Quagliarella’s career were over-shadowed by off-field struggles precipitated by a stalker. Quagliarella had to keep the details of the case, involving a serving policeman, secret until sentencing was finally passed in 2017. Quagliarella opened up about the internal turmoil and the impact upon his family and career in a heart-wrenching Bleacher Report interview. With the details of the case out in the open and the perpetrator behind bars, Quagliarella is now liberated and determined to make up for lost time. Sympathy for his story has transcended the traditional tribal lines of Italian football. Redemption from Napoli supporters will have meant a lot to him, but it is the adoration of the Samp fans that has driven him onwards.
The form of Quagliarella has reportedly attracted the attention of both Napoli and Milan, though the new contract should now put those rumours to rest. In truth, Quagliarella’s head was never likely to be turned. He’s forged an unerring bond with Sampdoria and the feeling is mutual; “I got goosebumps when the Gradinata Sud sang my name. The emotion I felt was incredible. As footballers we live for this. Unforgettable days that stay with you forever”.
It seems this journeyman has found his home.