The title may be a little misleading. If you don’t know the story, let’s make something clear from the start. It’s questionable if there was anything genuinely ‘real’ about the footballing career of Carlos Kaiser. To begin with, Kaiser isn’t really his name. Brazilian footballers often get tagged with a nickname, or a derivation of their real name, that then becomes known the world over as their official footballing nomme de guerre. Pelé being a prime example, although Edson Arantes do Nascimento is a bit of a mouthful anyway.
So, when Carlos Henrique Raposo was seeking to join that group of talented superstars, he wanted one too. He claims that the ‘moniker’ was gifted to him as his physique bore a resemblance to that of the German libero Franz Beckenbauer. Less charitable acquaintances, however, tell a different tale. Kaiser is the name of a beer sold in Brazil in short stumpy bottles. They say that this is actually where the resemblance lies, and where the name derived from. Half-truths, cons and downright deceits are the very fuel of the story of Carlos Kaiser, so flip a coin and make your choice.
You see, the problem about the footballing career of Carlos Kaiser is that, when you weigh it all up, there simply isn’t one. In a career that spanned more than a dozen years, he’s the player who didn’t – play that is. Not once, for any of his ten different clubs. Across Mexico, Brazil and even for a time in France, he never crossed the white line to make it onto the pitch. Carlos Kaiser was every inch the playboy footballer. He enjoyed parties and women, nightlife and women, the bright lights, the celebrity and the women. At an early stage, he decided that a footballer’s lifestyle was for him. The problem was he was pretty much useless at it. He once claimed that, “If sex were football, I would be Pele.” It isn’t, and if form on fidelity is anything to go by, he probably wouldn’t have been anyway.
So, how did someone with considerably less footballing ability than Southampton reject Ali Dia – he of not being George Weah’s cousin fame – manage to pull off the greatest footballing scam of the eighties and maintain a reputation built on smoke and mirrors that persuaded some of the top clubs in Brazil – Vasco da Gama, Palmeiras, Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense – to take him onto their payrolls, without ever kicking a ball in anger, or even mild disagreement. Well, if Carlos Kaiser wasn’t a particularly good footballer, he was wonderfully adept at delivering the con.
The general modus operandum would be to land at a new club, and fake an injury early on – very early on – in his first training session. Nothing too serious of course, we’re not talking ACL or anything like that. A pulled hamstring was always a safe bet, and in the 1980s sports medicine still hadn’t largely progressed sufficiently to gainsay a player limping off the pitch with a sad, but resigned, look on his face, shaking his head sorrowfully at the coach.
The ruse would normally keep him in the background for a few weeks or so, and in that time, he’d work on building up a network of friendly journalists, happy to exchange a bit of inside info for a false, but utterly glowing report of the footballing skills and achievements of Carlos Kaiser. He’d also work on developing relationships with some of the star players of the club, a bit of extra security, and always useful when touting for his next transfer. A toy mobile ‘phone was a useful gadget, allowing him to be ‘accidentally’ overheard by club officials as he turned down approaches from clubs across the world. Sometimes, legend has it, even faked an ability to speak English to convince the unwary eavesdroppers.
Did it always work, I hear you ask? Well, astoundingly, most of the time it did. Even when there was a chance of being rumbled however, creativity flaring, Carlos Kaiser had an answer. Here’s a couple of legendary – perhaps even mythical examples.
After signing for French Ligue 2 club, based on the island of Gazélec Ajaccio – birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, the club arranged for him to be introduced to fans at their stadium. Kaiser turned up to what was a small ground, but still fairly full of fans out to see their new Brazilian striker. Then, shock horror. One of the coaches brought out a bag of balls so that Kaiser could woo the assembled throng with his mastery of the ball. You see the problem, don’t you?
Well, Kaiser did, and had an answer. Solving the problem quicker then you can say ‘Retreat from Moscow’ he came up with a plan. Instead of juggling the ball keepie-uppie style, a bit like Peter Kay in that old John Smith’s beer advert, he walloped each one passed to him, straight into the crowd of fans. “Ave it!” as the rotund Bolton funnyman said. “Gifts for the fans,” Kaiser plausibly explained to the club officials as he ostentatiously kissed the club badge on his shirt. Sorted. After leaving the club, he convinced a journalist to write an account of his stay in France. It apparently described how he had been a huge hit with the club, staying there for eight seasons and being the club’s top scorer and idol of the fans.
A year later, when contracted, if not actually playing, of course, for Bangu Atlético Clube in Brazil, he took a call from the club’s coach. Comfortably ensconced in a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro, surrounded by scantily clad women, Kaiser was aghast at being told that the club owner, Castor de Andrade, insisted he be in the team for the game the following day. “I have been injured for three months and I have spent the night partying. How am I going to play?” The panicking Kaiser apparently replied, in full knowledge that Castor de Andrade was allegedly a rather big wheel in the local crime syndicate and not the kind of man open to debate. The coach, somewhat used to having to kowtow to his boss’s whims reassured Kaiser that he would be on the bench, and stay there for the game. At least that would keep the owner happy.
Feeling he was safe, Kaiser would later go straight from the club to the team hotel. By the time he arrived, the other players were already having breakfast, and he slipped into the squad unnoticed. Football never goes as you plan though. Less than ten minutes in, with the team two goals down to the visitors of Coritiba, word came down to the bench from Castor de Andrade that Kaiser should go on to save the day. The coach had little option but to tell the reluctant player to warm up. Faced with the impossibility of being thrown into a top tier Brazilian game and floundering like a two-year-old with armbands in a three-foot deep swimming pool, it was time to think – and think fast. A solution came to mind. With the home team losing by two goals so early on, the crowd were raging at the players for their ineptitude, little suspecting that the substitute warming up, was hardly likely to help matters. Seeing an opportunity, Kaiser then began arguing with them visibly and volubly. Matters erupted into a brief farrago of flailing arms. The referee stopped the game, and showed the substitute a red card. Kaiser was back in the dressing-room, and still hadn’t crossed that white line. Result!
The story of Carlos Kaiser has nothing to do with football, and yet everything to do with football at one and the same time. It’s often said that, while at the top end of the game, fame and fortune is the reward for the most gifted of exponents, for the majority of players, the truth is very different, with clubs perceived as exploiting players financially. But here’s a case where the boot – the football boot that is – was very much on the other foot. Clubs were seduced by rumour and the false trails left by Kaiser’s ability to deceive. So many fell for it and perhaps that’s where the moral – if there is such a thing in these circumstances – lies. Carlos Kaiser knew the system, and worked it for his benefit, but it wasn’t his system, it was shaped by the clubs. They say in a casino, the ‘house’ always wins when the cards are dealt. Carlos Kaiser though, found a way of winning, without actually playing the game.