Imagine this: you surround yourself with your loving family, you achieved your dream job of playing for your boyhood team, with a city of adoring fans who will sing your name week in week out; your life is going great. Out of nowhere your world is rocked upside down. Your private life, violated. You receive anonymous texts, photographs of ungodly, illegal images, implying your involvement, rumours being spread of your alleged allegiance to mafia groups. Worse still, your family receives the same treatment. Imagine your own parents seeing you linked to these atrocities. Such is the pressure on you that your only solace is to move to a new team, the arch rivals of your current club. Your passionately supportive fans transcend from love to loathe. Not only do you receive the vile messages from your stalker, but now you and your family are getting death threats from hundreds of fans, those, who for over a year cherished and treasured you like a god. Imagine the perpetrator being someone that you trusted, a friend, a policeman, someone who you put your faith and trust upon. Imagine now, the internal hell that would trouble you throughout this process. Your trusting nature violated, your boyhood dream in tatters, years of your life spent in anger, frustration and hopelessness. However harrowing this Hollywood blockbuster may be, for Italian striker Fabio Quagliarella, this was a way of life. For poor Fabio, this was a nightmare he lived for the latter part of his career. A nightmare that originated in a small Vodafone store in 2006 and that he was unable to speak about publicly until 2017. A nightmare with a shocking twist that will likely see the villainous bastard not only walk free, but continue his position of power. Imagine.
One of the saddest parts to this story is that Quagliarella seems to be a genuinely nice guy. While some professional footballers appear to have a nasty streak, be it on the pitch or off it, Fabio is a gentleman. A quiet man, who got his breaks in life through hard work and perseverance. He doesn’t own lavish mansions or occupy glamorous nightclubs. When this story begins, he is in his twenties, is an established top flight forward, yet he lives at home with his mother and father, Susanna and Vittorio Quagliarella. He was a friendly sort, a guy who trusted everybody and did what he could to help those around him. It was this trusting nature that proved his downfall. He never forgot where he was from, nor who his friends were. Sure, he forged a fearsome strike partnership with Antonio Di Natale at Udinese, along with countless other footballing stars in Serie A, but it was his continued friendship with a childhood buddy Giulio De Riso which proved to be the strongest.
In December 2006, Quagliarella went home during winter break. He visited De Riso at his Vodafone store, catching up with the long time friend, while using the opportunity to enquire about how best to fix his phone, which had been hacked recently. It was a policeman, named Raffaele Piccolo. The two were acquainted after De Riso had reported to the police that he had received mail at his place of work, accusing him of working with the local mafia, the Camorra. The issue appeared to be sorted and Piccolo and De Riso became good friends. When the phone shop owner began getting anonymous texts with the same allegations, Piccolo came to his store in his free time to personally write up the report and wipe his mobile phone. De Riso trusted the policeman, Piccolo, and put Fabio Quagliarella in touch with the cop. Piccolo proved to be a great help to Quagliarella. They exchanged phone numbers and the footballer gifted Piccolo with some personalised memorabilia.
Flash forward two and a half years and Quagliarella signed a deal to fulfil his childhood dream – he had signed for Napoli. The townspeople rejoiced as the son of the city had come home. Even a spokesperson for the local mafia, the cammorristi, proclaimed their happiness over the situation. He would live with his parents full time, not just during his holidays. He would get to spend more time with his friends, like De Riso and Piccolo. He celebrated every goal he scored for Gli Azzurri by kissing the badge. Quagliarella was home.
While he appeared to be on cloud nine, things were unsettling for Fabio off the field. In the past couple of years, since his first encounter with Raffaele Piccolo, he had been receiving anonymous text messages. They accused him of being a drug addict. They linked him to high profile members of the cammorristi. It bothered him, but during his time at Sampdoria and Udinese he had managed to shrug these off. Upon his joining of the Naples based side, the frequency of these texts increased, as did the severity.
Luckily for Fabio, he now lived in the same city as officer Piccolo. Raffaele Piccolo decided that it would be best to avoid public interest, suggesting that it could exacerbate the problem. Instead, as he did for De Riso all those years ago, he wrote the report up privately, wiped the phone and assured the men that he would deal with the cyber attacks himself. Fabio Quagliarella was so grateful to finally put this strange ordeal behind him that gave Piccolo a couple of signed football tops, along with game tickets whenever the policeman requested them.
Despite having his phone wiped, Quagliarella decided to have his number changed. A good idea, surely? Sadly not. Instead of getting text messages to his phone, he instead received letters, hand written letters, through his letterbox at the home he lived in with his parents. The nature of these letters was upsetting for the occupants of the Quagliarella household. These letters contained photographs of underage girls in states of undress, with allegations that he was a paedophile. This was not just shocking to the player, but heartbreaking for his parents to have to see these first hand.
Rather than phoning the police directly, Fabio called up Piccolo to come to his house and analyse the letters. He told the family the same that he told Fabio and Giulio earlier in the year – to keep quiet. He didn’t want the story to spread, as it involved such a high profile victim, therefore he would take on the case privately. This seemed to make sense to all concerned, and even more trust was placed on the overly helpful policeman.
The letters continued and the intensity of them grew. The allegations were horrific. They accused him of match fixing, which had potential to see the player investigated, which could affect his livelihood. These letters claimed that on top of the paedophilic allegations, he also participated in orgies. But the worst of the lot was a letter addressed to Fabio’s father, Vittorio. In the letter contained a photograph of a coffin, with Fabio’s face superimposed on to it. The parents then began receiving texts, one example saying “I know your son is out in Naples tonight. We will shoot him in the legs. We will beat him to death.”
The scenario was a living nightmare for Quagliarella, he felt uneasy day and night. Piccolo and Fabio ascertained that it had to be a member of Fabio’s close friend group; who else would have access to addresses and phone numbers? This was backed up by some of the more personal details of the letters and texts, mentioning specific names and places.
It was effecting not only his home life, but also his playing career. Napoli were building a squad loaded with attacking talent, with players such as Ezequiel Lavezzi, Christian Maggio and Marek Hamšík just a few stand outs of that impressive squad. But how could Fabio Quagliarella focus? He had always been a trusting man, but there must have been questions lurking in the back of his mind. Could it be a team mate? A member of staff? Even his manager, Walter Mazzarri?
He started the season in fine form, but after a couple of months he was beginning to feel overwhelmed. He freely admits that his intensity of training dipped, and consequently he performed worse on the pitch during games. He knew he was innocent, but that didn’t mean everyone else did. He worried that the fans would hear of these allegations, and his teammates too. Would they pass to him if they believed him to be a paedophile? Would the manager pick him if the match fixing rumours were true? Would the chairman sack him for the mafia allegations? Sacked, from his boyhood club? Surely not.
The sacking fear intensified when one afternoon, Napoli chairman Aurelio De Laurentiis invited him into his office. Quagliarella couldn’t tell the chairman what was happening, as Piccolo had made the player swear that he wouldn’t tell a soul. De Laurentiis just wanted a chat. He asked the player to move closer to the stadium. Odd, thought Quagliarella. Gennaro Lezzo and Luigi Vitale lived close to Fabio, yet neither of them had been asked to move. Had De Laurentiis heard the rumours? Did he really want to move from his family? In the end he made the move, wanting to do anything and everything for his club.
While Fabio and his parents received the worst of the texts and mail, Giulio De Riso, was getting his fair share of attention too. He received a letter in the post one day, with his name on the envelope, but inside, the letter was addressed to Mr De Laurentiis, the owner of Napoli. It was a letter detailing Fabio Quagliarella’s planned meetings with the mafia. Was this a courtesy call? Let everybody know what the chairman would be receiving? This was all too much for Fabio. Even today nobody at Napoli would confirm if they had received these letters, but after one season, he was loaned to fierce rivals, Juventus.
This departure was heartbreaking for Quagliarella. He had always dreamed of emulating his hero, Diego Maradona, in winning the title with Napoli. He did win titles, but not with his beloved Napoli. He made the long move north to Turin. This was a successful time for him, he won three consecutive titles with Juve. This made him a hate figure in his home town. He was a Judas, and the fans let him know it. They showered him with affection when he joined Napoli. Even when Italy were crashing out of the World Cup in South Africa, they cheered on his wonderful strike against Slovakia. But by making the switch to Juventus, he became a figure of resentment.
Quagliarella suffered abuse when he returned to Naples and received hate mail, on top of his usual stalker mail, but the real heart-wrencher was the effect it had on his parents. They would receive abuse every day. His mother had strangers shout at her in the street, calling her a whore. When he returned to Naples during his down time he felt uncomfortable going out in public, having to dress up in disguise when he did venture out. The player couldn’t get social media for fear of being targeted. He felt suffocated, strangled by the noose that his stalker had around him.
Piccolo was still on the case, despite them living in different cities. He kept reassuring Fabio that the culprit was close to being caught. At one point, the policeman had convinced the Quagliarella family to get fingerprints from their friends that visited. After over a year of Piccolo’s help, the number of requests kept rising. Match tickets here, signed shirts there. There was something unusual about the investigation though, and it was Quagliarella father that was most bothered by it. Piccolo himself claimed that he had begun to receive texts, sharing the news with the family, further extending the bond of trust between everyone. But when asked by Vittorio to see the texts, the officer claimed that they had been deleted. Why would the investigating officer delete the texts? They were evidence.
It was July 2010 that the identity of the stalker was uncovered, courtesy of a coincidental meeting. Giovanni Barile is an attorney in Naples, and a friend with Giulio De Riso. Over the years, Barile became friends with Quagliarella and in the summer of 2010 they holidayed together. Conversations unfurled one day during a boat ride. Quagliarella opened up to Barile about the letters, the accusations, the anguish and pain of it all. Barile did more than just sympathise, he could fully understand. Why? Because the same thing had happened to himself. He shared his own experience, then stated that he was sure he knew the culprit…
Giovanni Barile recounted how he received vile letters stating that he was a habitual drug user, that he cheated on his wife and that he was a paedophile. This forced the separation of Barile and his wife. Piccolo bit of more than he could chew and made mistakes with Barile, he got sloppy and the lawyer sussed him out. He called Piccolo to his office and threatened him, he told him that if he ever saw him again, he would hurt him. Piccolo denied the claims, but Barile’s threats worked. The letters stopped, as did the texts.
De Riso didn’t want to believe the claims against his friend, but after he returned from his vacation, the police turned up at his shop, acting on reports of his involvement in the mafia. De Riso naturally mentioned that he had received letters accusing him of these crimes, and that Piccolo had filed reports on these incidents. The police went to look for these reports, but found nothing. De Riso then mentioned that Fabio Quagliarella had suffered the same fate. Once again, the police checked for the reports, again finding nothing. Why had Piccolo not submitted them? Could this back up Barile’s story?
An investigation against Piccolo was carried out, with the police conducting a full and thorough case against the accused officer. It was suspected that he had cloned the contact information from Quagliarella’s phone, which explained how intimate details could be learned. They compared the writing style of the letters to that of Piccolo’s Facebook profile, similarities were uncovered. He was a prime suspect.
Furthermore, the Quagliarella’s, along with De Riso, were instructed to call the police the instant that they received an anonymous text. The police would then track the location of this text. Once this was done, they would phone Piccolo, the idea being that Piccolo would answer, so that they could have that in the same location. This worked, and in November 2010, a search warrant was issued to search Piccolo’s home, including his computer and devices.
The results were frightening. They showed that Piccolo was a serial stalker. He would infiltrate his victims life, gain their trusts and get prizes such as free holidays, merchandise and, in Quagliarella’s case, tickets to games, along with the status of being friends with an international footballer. From the day of the raid, the texts stopped. The letters stopped. The harassment stopped. The immediate threat was over.
While the stalker stopped, his legacy continued. Piccolo had made Fabio Quagliarella a figure of hate in his home city of Naples. His lawyers instructed him not to talk of the case publically, therefore Quagliarella was unable to explain to the Napoli fans why he had left them for Juventus. He was insulted and belittled, not just in the stadium but around the town. The Napoli ultras are renowned for their over-exuberant nature, and such was their loathing for Fabio that death threats ensued.
The case against Raffaele Piccolo was a long and drawn out process, it took until February 2017 before he was convicted of slander and stalking. He was sentenced to just under five years in jail. It seemed short, considering the psychological duress that his victims suffered, yet this short sentencing was only scratching the surface of the real problem.
Piccolo was not imprisoned. Piccolo is STILL an acting police officer. This is because of an oddity in the Italian justice system. Piccolo was found guilty in the first grade, but gets two more attempts to prove his innocence before March 2018. He could not be imprisoned during this spell if he appealed the ruling and wanted to prove his innocence, and with not being found officially guilty, his employer can chose to keep him on. He may still be a police officer, but no longer in a public facing role. Piccolo maintains his innocence, and due to the ruling of the Italian legal system, it is looking highly likely that he will face no prison time nor even a fine.
Such is the mental character of Fabio Quagliarella that he still managed to successfully perform on the pitch. He won numerous titles with Juventus between 2010 and 2014. He played two seasons with Juventus’ city rivals Torino, where he began his career, this time helping them with their Europa League campaign. Fabio is now 35 years old and in the form of his life at Sampdoria, where he has 31 goals in 74 appearances, including a recent hat trick against Fiorentina. A man of weaker character may have fallen out of football all together, scared by the diabolical stalking from Raffaele Piccolo and the abhorrent abuse he took from Napoli fans. While Piccolo may not receive the punishment he deserves, at least now Quagliarella was able to explain to the Napoli fanbase what had happened, and why he had to leave. A spokesperson for the Napoli ultras released a statement where they forgave Fabio and apologised for their treatment of the forward. This whole situation was a nasty business and one which, with any luck, will not rear its ugly head again. Fabio Quagliarella is a supremely talented footballer and one can only hope that, while he will never be able to regain those painful years, he can finish his already successful career with pride.