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Dublin: 11 °C Saturday 7 December, 2019

'He blagged a professional career in the most difficult place to make it': the greatest swindle in football history

A new documentary film tells the inexplicable story of Kaiser – a Brazilian conman and the greatest player never to have played the game.

KAISER ARRIVES AND he sort of hobbles into the room. He looks like a washed-up rock star. He still has the mullet, the shades on. But the mullet is completely dyed off his head. It’s so black that it’s blue. And you’re thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this guy’s had a hard life’. I’d brought a nice bottle of whiskey with me because we were trying to do a deal with a conman. So you had to structure the deal in such a way that it kept him interested. If you just came with a bag of cash, he could’ve disappeared into the sunset. Because that’s what he’s been doing for so long in just a slightly different manner.”

Even the story behind the story is a fascinating one.

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Tom Markham had chased the almost-mythical Carlos Henrique Raposo since 2013. It started with his friend – Rob Fullam – coming across a couple of scarcely-believable paragraphs in Portuguese on a Reddit forum. He got the gist of it but it was so far-fetched. A Brazilian footballer – a lothario and celebrity – who was signed by a litany of the country’s top teams like Botafogo, Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama but who never played for any of them. Why? Because he wasn’t a footballer at all. He was Kaiser – a gifted con artist.

Markham, better known for his work with Sports Interactive – the company behind Football Manager – initially dismissed the yarn. His reason was understandable. Even if it was true, surely everyone would’ve heard the story? But a trip to the 2014 World Cup led to conversations with some well-connected football people in Rio de Janeiro and Kaiser was brought up. It quickly became apparent to Markham and his friends that not only was the vast majority of the story pretty accurate but that Kaiser himself was still around.

By the very end of 2015, Markham and a small film crew – including director Louis Myles – were face-to-face with Kaiser and hammering out a deal to turn his remarkable story into a documentary film.

“What really sealed it was that Louis had worked with the BBC and been at World Cups and made some good documentaries,” Markham says.

“He had an iPad with photos of him and everyone from Lionel Messi to Maradona to Sebastian Vettel so Kaiser is flicking through them and thinking, ‘Oh, this is the level I’m going to be portrayed at’. So, we were conning him a little bit.”

Once the contract was signed, Myles set up his camera and pressed record. The subsequent footage proved explosive and the white-knuckle ride was underway.

“He proceeded to give us about three hours of the most incredible stories – stuff that we couldn’t use for legal reasons about Romario, Bebeto, Maradona,” Markham continues.

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“Maradona spent Carnival in Rio in 1993 and was almost following Kaiser around the place because he was sorting out everything. And you can imagine what kinds of stuff was going on. We started filming and it was four days of complete mayhem. It was the world according to Kaiser. And we’re looking at each other thinking, ‘Is this real? Is it not?’ At the start I think he thought he could tell us anything and we’d just knit it together. But then we interviewed Carlos Alberto – who coached Kaiser at Flamengo – and he showed us all of these photos of them at various social engagements, Christmas, everything. And we realised that most of the stuff we were told was actually the truth.”

With innate charisma and his relationships with actual professional footballers, Kaiser managed to create a bubble of lies and manipulation. Before the internet age, it was relatively straightforward to fake it. After all, he looked like a footballer, he talked like a footballer, his friends were all footballers. So why would anyone doubt it?

Of course, there was one problem: Kaiser’s on-field ability. Or lack thereof. But he had another trick for shielding himself from having to perform. At his first training session for a club, he’d stretch and jog and look the part. But then he’d pull up, struck down with a muscle injury that would promptly rule him out for an indefinite length of time. Family bereavements also became a frequent occurrence for poor Kaiser and he attended ‘funerals’ for countless grandparents.

But, was he really that bad of a player or just lazy?

“He contradicts himself a few times,” Markham says.

“In certain instances, he’ll say he only wanted the lifestyle, that’s all he was interested in and that he wasn’t very good. At other times, he’ll say, ‘People didn’t think I was that good because of the guys I was hanging around with so I was getting compared to Carlos Alberto, Renaldo Gaucho, Zico, Romario, Bebeto’. I think he genuinely believes he was alright but we’ve had people tell us he was absolutely useless, which I believe. One guy – one of the most decorated beach footballers in Brazil – said Kaiser couldn’t even kick a football. But we also interviewed Jair Pereira, who coached a lot of teams in Brazil and also Atletico Madrid. He was at Botafogo when Kaiser was there and he said he was really good but just didn’t want to play in games.”

“At the start, I don’t think the other players knew how bad he actually was. And then because they get to know the guy and like him so much, they almost add fuel to the flames. At the time, you had some players in press conferences saying, ‘Kaiser has been so unlucky with injury and if he gets a decent run, I’m expecting him to join me in the Brazil squad’. So, they’re all in on the joke towards the end.”

Kaiser didn’t just have his team-mateswrapped around his finger either. What he noticed was that he had the same effect and impact on coaches, owners, businessmen and the media.

“Because he knew all the players, he did deals with restaurant owners by saying, ‘Right, if I bring Carlos Alberto in here with his wife then I’ll eat for free when I come along with whatever girl I bring in’ and that’s how he operated,” Markham says.

“It’s how he dealt with the media too. Take someone like Edmundo, a fairly prickly character. If someone wanted an interview, they could go through the Vasco da Gama press officer and he’d probably fob just them off. Or you could go to Kaiser. And because he knows him so well, he’d call him and arrange everything. But as a consequence, all the journos owed Kaiser lots of favours. And he’d get them to write articles about him, how good he was and how unlucky he was with injury.”

The deeper Markham and his team dived into the story, the more ridiculous it became. Certain subplots were anointed with the special brand of madness only Kaiser could supply. Everywhere he went, a surrealism followed. Like a character from a cartoon strip, he repeatedly found himself in bizarre situations. As a result, so did the film crew.

“It’s so much stranger than fiction,” Markham says.

Everyone was talking to us about one of the mafia bosses who was heavily involved with Botafogo and who Kaiser ended up playing for. The boss had a prosthetic penis and he had to pump up this valve to get everything working. And everybody is chatting to us about how Kaiser sorted him out with all these girls and it’s just ridiculous. You’re sort of thinking, ‘Where did this come from?’”

There was one major question that Markham and Myles wanted answered. What was Kaiser’s motivation? It’s one thing to play the card once, appreciate your good fortune and enjoy the brief moment in the spotlight. But to do it repeatedly? To take the same risks? And for what? A nice place to eat? To impress another woman? To get into the best nightclub in town?

“We actually hired Professor Kevin Dutton, who’s at Oxford, and he’s a specialist in psychopaths,” Markham says.

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“He did a Channel 4 programme in which he almost evaluated good ones and bad ones and how very successful people have psychopathic tendencies but they just don’t go around killing people. And it was really fascinating. And we got him to do a psychological evaluation of Kaiser a couple of weeks ago. And his analysis was amazing.”

We tell the story as we found it. There are contradictions. Everyone has a different view of what’s true and what’s not. That’s how good he is in terms of manipulation. And he’d do this stuff with every aspect of life. Like, he fooled two of the biggest mafia bosses in Brazil. And they love the guy. These fellas were probably responsible for over a thousand deaths. Like, they didn’t take shit.”

“It was all done spontaneously. I don’t think any of this was strategic in any way. He’d just react to situations when he was in them. He blagged a professional football career in the most difficult place to make it as a professional footballer. And it’s the last golden era of domestic football in Brazil. It was before players started to leave and head to Europe. All of the big players were still playing at home.”

In total, the crew spent about six months in Brazil and amassed a wealth of material. They conducted 72 interviews. They ended up with 230 hours of footage. And they learned about South American culture and why a figure like Kaiser is not looked upon as a fraudster or a criminal. But an anti-hero.

“In Brazil, they have a character known as a malandro, which is, effectively, a chancer,” Markham says.

But people in society almost have more respect for someone who’s made it as a malandro than someone who has actually grafted to get there. It’s accepted so people don’t really seem to necessarily mind.”

The film features contributions from Carlos Alberto, Bebeto and Renato Gaucho who all delve into detail regarding their favourite Kaiser anecdotes. But the main attraction is the man himself, who conjures some absolutely magnificent soundbites, including:

“My hobby is sex – I have a disease like they say Michael Douglas has.”

And, there’s some priceless archive footage too. One clip in particular is almost a perfect metaphor for Kaiser’s story.

“He went on the biggest talk show in South America to talk to Jo Soares – a Gay Byrne or Michael Parkinson equivalent,” Markham says.

“He’s publicly telling his story and everyone’s gasping and trying to figure out how this had happened. It’s a live TV show and Jo asks him, ‘What do you do now?’ And Kaiser says, ‘Well I’m a personal trainer’”.

“And he calls this girl down from the audience. She whips off her dress and she’s in a Brazilian-style dental-floss bikini. And Kaiser is pointing out different parts of her body and saying, ‘This is the exercise I used to achieve this’ and we’re talking about a place where they’re obsessed with that stuff. Everyone’s on the beach in Brazil, everyone wants to look good. So here was Kaiser on the biggest talk show in South America just advertising his latest gig. And it’s hilarious. The girl can’t put her dress back on because it’s so tight. And while he’s still describing what he’s doing, she’s half-naked trying to put her dress on in the corner of the screen.”

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football screens at the Vue Cinema in Dublin’s Liffey Valley on Sunday 29 July. 

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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