Originally from the Neapolitan commune of Castellammare di Stabia, Fabio Quagliarella moved to northern Italy at 13 to pursue his sporting dreams. A Serie A debut followed merely four years later, but despite that early start, Italian football's latest sensation has taken the long route to the top. Now 23, his boyhood dreams finally look to be coming true thanks to years of hard work and dedication.
As the curtain raised on the 2006/07 season, few in Italy were familiar with the Azzurri's most recent goalscorer. Yet while some may have been taken aback by his advances since then, his coach at Sampdoria, Walter Novellino, is not surprised. Having witnessed all the forward's efforts behind the scenes, he sees Quagliarella as, "a humble boy, who has got where he has through a lot of work and many hours spent on the training field."
Though not extravagantly gifted, Quagliarella nonetheless remains a case apart. Hardly surprising perhaps, given that from a very young age he drew inspiration from the Diego Maradona poster hanging in his bedroom, which announced: 'I could never be an ordinary man'.
Like the former Napoli legend, Quagliarella was spotted early on, which meant packing his bags for Turin in his first year as a teenager, full of hopes of breaking through. Keen to learn, to this day he remembers the phrase constantly drilled into him by Torino youth coach Luigi Carelli: "When you leave the pitch, your boots must be white from the paint on the touchlines. You have to stay out on the flank." That lesson obviously hit home, and 11 years later Roberto Donadoni praised the newcomer after facing Lithuania for, "staying out on the wing before coming into the middle to take the ball and shoot."
For all the valuable advice, though, those apprenticeship years in Turin were difficult and Quagliarella turned for support to his tightly-knit family, who made many sacrifices to enable him to flourish. As he puts it himself, "I'm lucky to have a family like mine behind me."
A taste for the spectacular
Currently being feted for his brace in Kaunas, the praise must feel all the sweeter for Quagliarella following a long and laborious journey to the highest level. Emiliano Mondonico gave him his Serie A debut in the 2-1 win over Piacenza on 14 May 2000, but that first taste of the professional game no doubt came too soon.
As a result, the youngster began an arduous tour of some of Italy's smaller outfits before battling his way back up, spending time with Fiorentina Viola (Serie C2, fourth division, one goal in 12 matches), Chieti (Serie C1, third division, 19 goals in 43 matches), Torino (Serie B, eight goals in 36 matches) and Ascoli (Serie A, three goals in 33 matches). "I'm a little snail," he jokes now. "I'm getting there slowly."
A turning-point finally came at the end of the 2005/06 campaign, when Quagliarella was readying himself for a move to Udinese, where he was already under contract. Instead of turning out for the Stadio Friuli outfit, he joined Sampdoria when the club's president expressed late interest and managed to secure his services.
Originally brought in as an understudy, he made the most of Francesco Flachi's suspension and a run of poor form for Fabio Bazzani to seize his chance. From October 2006 onwards, Italian football fans began to be treated to the 'Quagliarella show' as the hungry forward made his name with some spectacular strikes: a perfect lob plus a missile from 30 metres out against Atalanta, a scissor-kick against Reggiana, a rifled volley and match-winning header against Livorno and his masterpiece, a shot from close to the halfway line against Chievo. Scorer of nine goals in 16 appearances at the end of 2006, he eventually ended the season with 13, each as stunning as the next.
Azzurri trainer Roberto Donadoni quite naturally made the call and gave the Sampdoria man a couple of minutes apiece against Scotland and the Faroe Islands before starting him for the first time away to Lithuania. In typical fashion, Quagliarella announced his arrival on the international scene with a superbly-placed, left-footed effort from 25 metres, only to surpass it later in the game with a ferocious right-footed volley, also from outside the area. "I'm not dreaming," he exclaimed as he embraced fellow Neapolitan, Fabio Cannavaro.
Rumours of a high-profile transfer are already doing the rounds, but Quagliarella is keeping his feet on the ground. "I belong to both Sampdoria and Udinese. Samp are a great team, but if I have to leave that poses no problem for me," he explained recently. "What's important is to carry on playing. I got to this level through hard work, but I know the most difficult thing now will be to keep on performing."