Striker makes up for lost time at 36

Italy coach Roberto Mancini instructing Fabio Quagliarella during training ahead of the Euro qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein.
Italy coach Roberto Mancini instructing Fabio Quagliarella during training ahead of the Euro qualifiers against Finland and Liechtenstein.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Quagliarella's fine club form gives him chance of Azzurri recall after years in the wilderness

UDINE • At 36, Fabio Quagliarella has put his years of torment at the hands of a stalker behind him as he prepares to line up for Italy thanks to the best season of his career in Serie A, where he is the top scorer ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even if Roberto Mancini is focusing on youth as he rebuilds the Azzurri following their failure to qualify for last year's World Cup, the Italy coach was unable to ignore the striker's remarkable run of form for Sampdoria that has seen him plunder 21 goals in 27 league games.

The veteran could earn his 26th cap - 8.5 years after his last appearance for the national team - in their Euro 2020 Group J opener against Finland in Udine today.

While Quagliarella is the oldest member of the squad, he told Italian TV channel Rai Sport he was "living everything with great enthusiasm and serenity".

Insisting the call-up was earned, he added: "This is the Italian national team, there's no need to give caps away.

"Being called up by the Azzurri is a great source of satisfaction. There are so many strong young players with great personalities and, for me, it's nice to be here, even if I'm playing it by ear.

  • 21

  • League goals Fabio Quagliarella has for Sampdoria this season, the most in Italy's Serie A.

"I'm trying to carve out my space. I'm now at an age where you also know how to manage emotions."

While Mancini's side have been hit by injuries with Fiorentina striker Federico Chiesa already ruled out, Quagliarella provides another option up front alongside Juventus' forward pair of Federico Bernardeschi and Moise Kean, and Lazio striker Ciro Immobile.

The former Manchester City boss had already been keeping tabs, inviting him to take part in a training camp in February.

Quagliarella said: "I know that at my age, things can change from one day to the next, but the national team has always been a goal, and being in the midst of all these young people gives energy."

He scored his first goals in Serie A almost 15 years ago, in 2005 with Ascoli, and having netted 19 league goals last term, he is enjoying a sustained purple patch when most footballers would be winding down their careers.

His new-found calmness also follows the end of a stalker case that forced him to leave his home town of Naples in 2010.

For months, a former policeman sent hundreds of anonymous letters to Napoli claiming the player was involved in organised crime, paedophilia and drug trafficking.

After just one season, the club offloaded him to rivals Juventus, a departure then perceived as the worst betrayal by the home fans, who knew nothing of the case.

He was only able to tell the whole story, which left "significant scars", in 2017, when his persecutor was sentenced to nearly five years' jail.

In response, Napoli supporters displayed a banner at the San Paolo Stadium, which read: "You've lived through hell with enormous dignity. We will embrace you again, Fabio, son of this city."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2019, with the headline 'Striker makes up for lost time at 36'. Print Edition | Subscribe