Kaiser Soccer Club | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón and I’m here with our producer Lisette Arévalo. Hello, Lisette.
[Lisette]: Hello, Daniel.
[Daniel]: Lisette how much do you know about soccer and how much do you like it?
[Lisette]: Well, I have to be very, very honest. I don’t like soccer at all (laughs), and consequently, I don’t know anything about soccer. I know the basics, such as a yellow card and a red card if you do something very, very bad. (laughs)
[Lisette]: But that’s the end of all my deep knowledge about this sport, which is so important for our region.
[Daniel]: Okay, I know that about you because we have worked together for many years, so I was very surprised that on the board, which is like the internal record of the stories that come to Radio Ambulante, I saw your name next to a story about soccer. So I imagine there must be a very particular reason why you are bringing me a soccer story when you don’t like that sport at all.
[Lisette]: Yes, Daniel, and I know that you like soccer a lot and are a big fan, and you talk about it with the rest of the team. Hm . . . but I’m sure you’ve never heard a story like the one I’m going to tell you because it’s about a soccer player who—from what I understand and what I know about soccer—has one of the most impressive careers in Brazil.
[Daniel]: Well, let’s see, let’s see. Fine. OK, tell me where his . . . his story begins.
[Lisette]: Let’s see. To begin with, he played in Flamengo, which is a team from Rio de Janeiro and is one of the oldest and greatest in Brazil.
[Daniel]: So you have been told . . .
[Lisette]: As I have been told and have investigated; I’ve also done my job as a journalist (laughs).
[Daniel]: OK. Sure, I know Flamengo. Champion of Copa Libertadores several times and came to the World Cup of Clubs recently.
[Lisette]: Very, very prestigious. Any soccer player in Brazil would like to be on this team. Hm . . . well, he also played on another one called Vasco da Gama. And he was there not just any year, but he was there in ‘89, when they were season champions.
[Daniel]: Perfect. I mean, of course, this man has already collected titles . . .
[Lisette]: Precisely, he was on the most important teams in Rio and Brazil. But he played not only there, as surely you know and I recently found out . . .
[Lisette]: Brazil exports a lot of soccer players abroad, especially to Europe. And this player I want to tell you about is no exception. He was part of teams such as the Argentinean club Independiente, the Mexican club Puebla, and he even played in France.
[Daniel]: OK, I get it, he fulfilled the dream of any young Latin American soccer player to play in Europe.
[Daniel]: OK. So now . . . let’s see. I have surely heard about this player. What is his name?
[Lisette]: Well, his name is Carlos Henrique Raposo, but everyone knows him as Carlos Kaiser.
[Daniel]: Everyone—that is, nobody, because (laughs) that name doesn’t ring a bell at all.
[Lisette]: Hm . . . Well, Daniel, the truth is that Carlos—or, well—Kaiser, during all that time he was on those teams, during the twenty years of his career, he never really touched a soccer ball.
[Daniel]: 20 years in the career and didn’t play a . . . All right, but how could he have played on all these teams without touching a ball?
[Lisette]: Well, the thing is that Kaiser always had the ability to convince everyone that he was someone he was not; and more than a story about soccer, this story is about a man with a lot, a lot of charisma, with the gift of gab and all the looks of a great soccer player.
[Daniel]: Well, Lisette, I’m all ears and I’ll give you the mike.
[Lisette]: OK, here we go. But first, a short pause.
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[Lisette]: We’re back. I’m Lisette Arévalo.
Carlos Kaiser’s story is not one of those that can be fully verified. But that doesn’t make it any less real. So let’s start by saying something that is key: Kaiser has always known how to get away with things. And that’s why he defines himself as a scoundrel.
[Kaiser]: A malandragem é um jeito de você se defender do, das agruras, das dificuldades que o mundo te apresenta.
[Lisette]: Malandragem, that is to say the act of being a “scoundrel,” which Kaiser describes as a necessary action to defend oneself from the hardships of the world. Although in English a scoundrel means someone wicked or dishonest, in Brazil it’s different. It’s a term widely used to refer to the mischievous boys from big cities like Rio de Janeiro, where Kaiser grew up in the 70s. Boys who, like him, with ingenuity, subtlety and deception, know how to overcome any difficulty and like to get ahead in all situations.
Actually, this concept should not seem very foreign to you. It’s the idea that the scoundrel, the cunning person, lives off the fool, the sucker. Something that is, unfortunately, all too common in our region.
Kaiser, for example, looked for ways to make money or get by if he didn’t have it: sometimes he would cut flowers from the gardens of a cemetery to sell them at the entrance, or he would go to the movies without paying for a ticket.
[Kaiser]: Dizem que os gatos têm sete vidas. Eu só tenho uma, entendeu? Então eu tinha que ter um raciocínio rápido pra, pra me livrar…
[Lisette]: He puts it in terms of survival. Because, unlike cats, which are said to have 7 lives, he only has one. So he feels he needs to be a quick thinker to get around life’s mishaps. If not, according to him, he would be dead.
Like once, when he was 12, and the worst thing for him almost happened: He was going to miss Christmas. His mother told him that if he failed in school, he would get no gifts and could not participate at the dinner. Carlos already knew he had done poorly on the exams. So, the day he had to go pick up his grades, he had an idea. He decided to stop at a public phone that was very close to his school.
[Kaiser]: Liguei para a polícia 190 e falei que tinha uma bomba no colégio.
[Lisette]: He called the police and said there was a bomb at the school. When he arrived and saw that everyone was being evacuated from the scene, he acted surprised. And when he told his mom what had happened and that he couldn’t give her his grades, she had no choice but to accept.
[Kaiser]: Quando ela soube que eu já tinha sido reprovado já as festas já tinham passado já.
[Lisette]: Carlos had already eaten Christmas dinner and had received his gifts by the time the grades arrived at home.
At just 10, 12 years of age, Carlos says that being a scoundrel, a mischievous trickster, had to do with the neighborhood where he grew up.
[Kaiser]: Eu morava num bairro pobre da Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro chamado Botafogo. De muitas casas né? E cercado por morros, por favela né?
[Lisette]: It was a residential area, with few shops, he says. Surrounded by hills and favelas. The Botafogo that he describes is a poor place, the typical hostile neighborhood that has bred a lot of Brazilian crack soccer players. Although, to be precise, this neighborhood is not as poor as Kaiser says. Historically it has been one of the wealthiest in the city, where nobles settled in colonial times. And although it became more and more populated over time, with factory workers, artisans, soldiers and merchants, the richest people continued to live in the neighborhood. It even has one of the most expensive schools, and it is one of the most touristy places in the city.
Be that as it may, according to Carlos, he was far from having the life of a nobleman. He remembers seeing a lot of violence, and the presence of drug cartels looking for his friends to offer them work. And he says that many of them accepted because they needed to earn a few reales to support their families. It’s not hard to believe, because studies show that in the 1970s, the time Kaiser grew up, 60 percent of the nation’s population was poor. So for many there was no other alternative.
But Kaiser did have an alternative—soccer.
[Kaiser]: Eu acho que dizer que eu jogava não é prepotência, sou um cara muito verdadeiro. Eu nunca joguei futebol. Eu sempre fui un craque de futebol.
[Lisette]: I’m going to translate it literally because it seems important to me. Kaiser says: “I think that saying that I played is not arrogance. I am a very real guy. I have never played soccer. I have always been a crack soccer player.”
A crack player . . . You know, one of those extraordinary players who stand out for their movements, technique, and control of the ball. At that time, he spent his time playing with his friends on the fields of the Aterro do Flamengo, a park with several gardens between the center and the south of Rio de Janeiro. And according to him, they saw him in his neighborhood as the boy who had the best chance to become a professional.
[Kaiser]: Me comparavam com Beckenbauer.
[Lisette]: They compared him to Beckenbauer. Franz Beckenbauer. The iconic German defender, twice golden ball, world champion in ‘74, three times European champion with his club, Bayern Munich., etc. etc. One of those players who are known by their nickname. Because he played with such elegant style, like an emperor or in German, a “kaiser.”
So let’s picture him like this: it was the early 70s, Carlos, a crack player as a kid, an idol in his neighborhood, being compared to the best defender in soccer history. But since people couldn’t pronounce “Beckenbauer” . . .
[Kaiser]: E descobriram que el apelido de ele era Kaiser, e botar o meu apelido de Kaiser.
[Lisette]: When they found out that the German player’s nickname was Kaiser, they decided to call Carlos that. Simpler. Just as forceful.
Timing is important, too. It was the golden age of Brazilian soccer. Pelé was the best in the world, without question, but he was not the only national idol: Carlos Alberto Torres. Tostao. Rivelino. Great players, admired worldwide. And Jairzinho, Kaiser’s idol, had scored goals in all the 1970 World Cup matches.
In that World Cup, the Brazilian team dazzled everyone with a unique style of play. Kaiser was 7 years old, he watched everything on television and, like so many children of his generation, he dreamed of becoming one of those superstar players.
That’s why he and his friends spent the afternoons playing what in my country, Ecuador, they call a pachanguita, in Chile a pichanga, and in Brazil pelada . . . That is, informal games on the streets or in empty lots. If anyone had managed to raise money to buy a ball, they used it. But if not, they managed all the same, using balls made of paper or old socks.
He was in the middle of that with his friends on a Sunday in December 1973. Kaiser was 10 years old, and he was playing a pelada on Real Grandeza Street, when two directors of a local club showed up. And not just any club: the Botafogo, one of the most important clubs in the country, the one that gave the national team its star players in the ‘58 and ‘62 World Cups. Kaiser played as a midfielder and the Botafogo directors were very surprised by his technique.
[Kaiser]: E os dirigentes do Botafogo me viram. Coincidentemente perguntaram pro meu pai quem era eu…
[Lisette]: He says the Botafogo directors coincidentally asked Kaiser’s father who the boy with long, disheveled hair was. When he replied that it was his son, the directors asked him to take him to their club at 7 o’clock the next morning. They wanted to give him a training test. His dad agreed, and even though Kaiser didn’t even have proper shoes to play with, they did show up. When he arrived, they asked him to show his performance on the field.
[Kaiser]: Com 15 minutos de treino mandaram eu sair e eu fui falar com meu pai…
[Lisette]: 15 minutes later, they asked him to leave the field. Kaiser didn’t understand what was going on, so he went over to talk to his dad. He felt he had been called in just to embarrass him. At that moment, the directors approached and asked Kaiser to move away because they wanted to speak alone with his father. But he wasn’t the type to sit around to find out his fate, so he stayed close enough to hear what they were saying.
[Kaiser]: Se o senhor puder hoje ainda, o senhor traz a documentação do seu filho porque ele vai ser registrado como jogador do Botafogo.
[Lisette]: They wanted his father to bring his documents because he would be registered as a Botafogo player.
[Kaiser]: Foi um dos dias mais felizes da minha vida.
[Lisette]: I don’t know if you understand, that sound at the end of the sentence . . . just remembering that day when he was talking to me, he broke down. He says it was one of the happiest days of his life. It couldn’t be otherwise. He and his father were Botafogo fans, so wearing the black and white striped shirt was an honor, a dream.
[Kaiser]: Foi assim que tudo começou.
[Lisette]: And he refers not just to his time at Botafogo, but to the beginning of what would be the myth of Carlos Kaiser. And like all myths, it is difficult to know where the truth ends and the lie begins. In fact, it’s almost impossible even for him to clearly remember the exact dates or facts about his story. When we spoke, he clarified it to me more than once.
But something he doesn’t forget is the names of all the teams he was with. That’s something he has no trouble recalling.
[Kaiser]: Vasco, Flamengo, Fluminense, Bangu, América, Independiente da Argentina, El Paso, no Texas, Louletano em Portugal, Puebla no México. Ajaccio na ilha da Córsega da França, entendeu?
[Lisette]: But let’s start with the Botafogo, the first one, where he was at age 10, in the juvenile category. According to him, since he started wearing the team jersey, everything in his life changed.
[Kaiser]: Eu em vez de ter dez amigos eu passei a ter 100 amigos. Passei a não pagar no supermercado, eu passei para não pagar para entrar no cinema.
[Lisette]: He went from having 10 friends to having 100. Now they let him go to the movies for free, without having to hide. He could leave the supermarket without paying, only he didn’t steal the food—they gave it to him. He was a superstar, and his stage was the Botafogo neighborhood. His mother soon realized that her son was a financial opportunity for her family. But especially for her, because Kaiser says she was an alcoholic and very aggressive. So, according to him, as soon as she had the chance, his mother signed on as representative of her son’s soccer career.
[Kaiser]: Vendeu meu passe por um a uma pessoa muito ignorante, desconhecedora das leis…
[Lisette]: But since she was ignorant, says Kaiser, and didn’t know about the law, she signed a document that tied him to that agent for years. If she wanted to break the contract, she would have to pay millions of dollars. And although Kaiser didn’t know it at the time, he says his mother and the agent took most of the money he was paid to play in the Botafogo. The rest, they used to support the family. But of course, Kaiser was not very aware of this at such a young age.
I mentioned a few moments ago that telling Kaiser’s story is not always that simple. In one of our interviews, he went back to a moment in his early teens that was, for him, perhaps the first great lie of his life, the one that would be foundational in the Kaiser myth.
When he was 13 years old or so, he confirmed a suspicion he’d had since he was a child: His parents were not his biological parents.
A cousin told him that his biological mother was a housekeeper in the house of a very important politician in Porto Alegre, the largest city in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul. The politician got her pregnant and when she told him, he gave her money to disappear and raise her baby. Carlos was born in July, 1963 in a neighborhood called Moinhos de Vento.
It is not clear why, but his cousin told him that when Carlos was 7 days old, his mother went to a hotel in Porto Alegre. There she met a lady who was visiting her family in the city and they became friends. She asked the lady to take care of her son for a few days while she put her life in order. But when she came back for him, the lady told her that the baby had died. It was a lie, of course, because she wanted to keep him.
[Kaiser]: Infelizmente eu fui roubado de minha mãe verdadeira e fui trazido para o Rio de Janeiro pela minha mãe adotiva.
[Lisette]: That’s how, Kaiser says, he was stolen from his biological mother, and his adoptive mother took him more than 1,500 kilometers away, to Rio de Janeiro. His life—as he knew it—had begun with a deception.
Or at least, that’s one of his versions of what happened. In a book written by journalist Rob Smyth, Kaiser told him that his biological mother abandoned him to that lady. She said she would come back for him but she never did. And since the lady who was taking care of him was desperate to have a child, she took it as a sign. Instead of taking him to the police, she took him to Rio to raise him as her own.
And that’s something you have to know: With Kaiser there are always two or more versions of the same story. Like the origin of his nickname, for example. Because, according to a friend of his in an interview for a 2018 documentary called The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football, his nickname was much more Brazilian than German.
(ARCHIVE SOUND BITE)
[Advertising]: A Kaiser uma grande cerveja, a Kaiser uma grande cerveja. Kaiser, uma grande cerveja. A cerveja dos momentos felizes.
[Lisette]: Kaiser, a popular beer that went on the market in Brazil in the 80s. His friend says that since Carlos was chubby and shaped like a bottle, he got that nickname.
But be it Kaiser the emperor or Kaiser the beer, with him it’s impossible to know which of those two stories is the true one.
Shortly after learning that he was adopted, Kaiser says he was orphaned. His mother was an alcoholic and died of cirrhosis, and his father had a heart attack. For a time, he lived in the Botafogo headquarters. When he was not there, he lived with two aunts who worked as domestic servants. They lived on the bare minimum, so he started working to help them.
His life became more and more like the script of a movie about a poor boy who, despite everything, manages to become a great soccer player.
At the age of 15, he says they took him out of Botafogo because he offended the then-president of the club, Charles Borer. But the next day, he joined the youth team of a rival club, Flamengo. And here we also have two versions of how he ended up there. One involves the agent with whom his mother had signed the contract. Supposedly, he was the one who took him there.
The other version, which he gave to journalist Rob Smyth, is that Kaiser went to the same school as the children of Dida, the Flamengo youth coach. And through that contact he ended up playing there. Whatever the reality, Kaiser was not on that team for long.
One Monday, while training on the Flamengo fields, some directors of Puebla from Mexico arrived at the club. They were there to see Beijoca, one of the great idols of Brazilian soccer. They wanted to recruit him. But when the training ended, someone else had caught their eye.
[Kaiser]: Mas eles falaram que não queriam Beijoca que queriam aquele garoto que havia jogado…
[Lisette]: He claims that he had trained very well and that he didn’t even know the Mexican directors were watching him. Anyway, he dazzled them. They chose him over Beijoca and signed his first professional contract. Kaiser was only 16 years old. We tried to contact Puebla to verify this, but we had no response.
But according to Kaiser, there were high expectations in Mexico. Especially because of his resemblance to Muricy, a former Sao Paulo player who was very famous in Puebla. They both had long dark hair and white skin.
[Kaiser]: Quando eu cheguei no México achavam que eu ia ser o novo Muricy, entendeu? Eu não queria nada disso para mim e eu nunca quis nada disso.
[Lisette]: They said he would be the new Muricy. But he didn’t want any of that, he says. The issue is that by then, he had become disenchanted with soccer because that’s where he found out that his mother and the agent had allegedly kept 80% of what he had earned in Botafogo.
And this would be key to the transformation of Kaiser from a very promising player to a promise that would never play. If he had been deceived since the moment he entered professional soccer, now he would be the one to deceive them all.
[Kaiser]: E eu fazia de tudo para não jogar porque eu deixava bem claro a los dirigentes.
[Lisette]: He did everything not to play.
[Kaiser]: Eu fiz de tudo, eu fazia de tudo pra me esconder no jogo, fingia contusões, provocava juízes…
[Lisette]: He hid from the games, pretended to have concussions, provoked the judges and the referees . . . The first thing he told his coach when he arrived in Puebla was that his leg hurt and he had to rest for the first few days. According to Kaiser, the coach didn’t even question him.
As the days passed, the coach assumed that Kaiser was better and asked him to train. Kaiser quickly thought of a way out. He entered the field and after running a few meters, he threw himself to the ground and faked an injury. The medical team dragged him out of there while Kaiser gritted his teeth pretending to be in severe pain. The doctors sent him to rehab, gave him medicine, anti-inflammatories, everything. But nothing seemed to work: Kaiser was not cured and never played again.
After 8 months of seeing no change in his health, the directors decided it was better for him to return to Rio to recover. He didn’t put up any resistance, and went back to his aunts. Thus, Kaiser left no trace of a masterful move or a goal. What he did leave in his passage through Mexico were several love affairs with women and a son that he had with one of them. But Kaiser did not take on this responsibility. In Rob Smyth’s book, he says that at 17 he wasn’t ready to be anyone’s father.
Back in Rio de Janeiro, Kaiser began his moves to continue in the world of soccer. He says that Puebla didn’t cancel his contract but chose to lend him out to different teams in Brazil, such as América do Rio. Although it’s also said that he was never officially hired by this team, but attended training because he accompanied a friend of his who was a player for that club.
That’s how Kaiser spent his afternoons at the age of 17 or 18, sitting on the bench, telling stories to the players about his time at Puebla. But above all, he spent his time talking to the women who went to see the players train.
This is a recurring theme with Kaiser. You start out talking about soccer and he ends up talking about women, without being asked. For example, he insisted on clarifying to me—more than once—that he has never had vices such as drugs or alcohol. But he had another one.
[Kaiser]: Meu vício sempre foi mulher, eu saia com três mulheres por dia desde os 15 anos.
[Lisette]: From the age of 15 he dated about three women a day. He also told me—again without my asking—that he had his first sexual relationship at 14, although I later found out he’d told journalist Rob Smyth he was about to turn 12. Anyway, he brought up the subject several times.
And so it was time after time. Picking up women here and there . . . And from those relationships he had another son in Rio with a model, when he was 22. But Kaiser was not a present or exemplary father to him.
I’m telling you this because a lot of what Kaiser would do with his life has to do, in part, with women. His moves to stay in the world of soccer were never about the sport, but about what he could achieve by being a part of it. Well, that is, pretending to be a part of it.
Although of course, it would have been impossible for him to play the role of a crack soccer player without a troupe to back him up. So, with his friends from America do Rio, he would go to footvolley matches—a mix of volleyball and soccer—on Copacabana Beach. It was there that the best soccer players went to demonstrate their skills and spend time with their friends.
That’s where, at the age of 20, Kaiser received the best pass of his life. He was introduced to the player Renato Portaluppi, better known as Renato Gaúcho for being from Porto Alegre, the land of the gauchos, or cowboys. At that time, he was no less than one of the best attackers in Brazilian soccer. He was highly valued. And not only because of his technique on the field, but because of his physique: women were crazy over him.
[Presentador]: O crack de 87, o meu amigo, Renato Portaluppi… Renatoooo
[Lisette]: And Renato was happy. He was also a womanizer. Clearly, he and Kaiser had that interest in common. So when they met in 1983, on Copacabana Beach, they immediately became friends.
[Kaiser]: E a partir daquele momento foi uma amizade que se eternizou.
[Lisette]: More than friends, they became brothers. They went everywhere together—parties, get-togethers, footvolley games, workouts. It was there that Kaiser experienced what life was like for a famous footballer in the 80s. Where Renato went, he went. They were inseparable. And not only that—Kaiser made sure people couldn’t even tell them apart.
If anyone saw Kaiser walking around Rio at that time, they could easily think he was a sports superstar. Especially if he was with Renato. They both showed off their sculpted bodies as they walked, wore large dark glasses, and Kaiser imitated Renato’s way of speaking. They both had the typical haircut of the time: short at the top, sideburns, and long in the back.
[Kaiser]: As pessoas confundiam isso era uma coisa rotineira, entendeu? Mas aí eu nunca disse que eu era ele…
[Lisette]: Kaiser says he never deliberately tried to pass as his friend. But there are stories that contradict this. Former players, like Marcelo Gonçalves, remember seeing him giving autographs at a shopping center, pretending to be Renato Gaúcho. And once he even pretended to be him in order to get into a party at an exclusive nightclub.
[Lisette]: According to Kaiser, neither of them was bothered by being mistaken for each other. On the contrary, it was a compliment.
[Kaiser]: Eu acho ele um homem bonito, acho ele um cara educado, não faz nada de errado… não usa droga, não bebe, então..
[Lisette]: Because, Kaiser says, it seemed to him that Renato was a pretty, handsome, educated guy, who didn’t do anything bad in life, such as drugs.
As Kaiser increased his fame off the field, his soccer career continued. He says that he was with Botafogo and Flamengo again, two of the four most important teams in Rio.
According to him, both at Botafogo and at the other teams he claims he was with, he gave his best during training. Except when he had to practice with the ball, of course. If the ball was in the middle, Kaiser was on defense. If the ball was in defense, he was in the attack zone.
When Ricardo Rocha, world champion in ‘94, former Real Madrid and Flamengo player, saw him train, he couldn’t believe it. He asked Kaiser what that strange way of playing was. Kaiser, who always had an answer for everything, told him:
[Kaiser]: O Tostão, diziam que ele jogava sem bola, e eu falei eu sou igual o Tostão, eu jogo sem bola. Eu não preciso da bola pra jogar futebol.
[Lisette]: He says that just as Tostão—one of the most famous players in Brazil—played without the ball, so did he. That he didn’t need the ball to play soccer. And he sometimes used the names of other players to justify himself, like José Reinaldo de Lima, for example.
But of course, saying that Tostão didn’t play with the ball is just a figure of speech, because Tostão scored many goals during his career. What Kaiser is referring to is that Tostão would run toward the goal without the ball to distract his opponents’ defense, creating space for his teammates to score goals.
When the season began, so did his tricks to avoid playing.
[Kaiser]: Eu infernizava a vida dos juízes para que eles me expulsassem antes do jogo acabar…
[Lisette]: He made life impossible for the referees, so that they expelled him from the games. Especially if there was a party that he could not miss on the day of the game.
[Kaiser]: Simulava contusões, não tinha ressonância, era a minha palavra contra a do médico. Eu dizia que tinha problemas particulares…
[Lisette]: He faked concussions, and since there was no MRI at the time, it was his word against that of the team doctor. Once, he even he carried a prescription from a dentist friend of his saying that his injuries had to do with his teeth. That it was a strange neurological situation and he needed further studies before he could play again. He could even fake the death of his grandmother or his mother as many times as necessary. Kaiser was not short of stories. And he says it without a drop of shame.
Most of the time, the directors tried to help him with treatment and rehabilitation, but, of course, nothing worked. Kaiser was permanently injured.
It’s hard to believe: soccer teams spending money on a player who never played a single game. Because when he signed the contracts—if this was true—Kaiser did get a little bit of money. So I asked him about the financial expense that his alleged injuries caused to the teams.
[Kaiser]: Mas eu podia ser um gasto financeiro mais eu era um lucro energético, eu unia o grupo, entendeu? Eu dificilmente…
[Lisette]: He replied that beyond any expense that he could represent for the clubs, he represented an “energy profit,” as he put it. Because in addition to the parties he organized and the women he got for the players and managers, Kaiser was completely at their disposal and at their service.
From story to story, from conversation to conversation, from favor to favor, Kaiser increased his network of acquaintances. In Brazil, he became friends with great players like Bebeto, Ricardo Rocha, Carlos Alberto Torres . . . There are several photos of him with these great soccer figures having dinner, holding trophies or simply hugging at a party. All the looks of a superstar.
He also expanded his network by visiting exclusive restaurants to befriend the owners with a simple proposition: If they allowed him and the players to eat for free, their business would gain visibility with the press. With the same promise, he became a promoter of nightclubs where he entered without paying and had access to the VIP areas. And he offered to introduce the soccer players to women in exchange for putting him in contact with the coaches or directors of the soccer clubs. With Kaiser, everything was a meticulously calculated transaction, and nothing with him was free. His strategy seemed infallible. He was one of those men who could reach the most expensive places in Brazil without spending a real.
And he knew how to network with all kinds of people, even iconic characters from Rio de Janeiro such as Castor de Andrade.
[Sérgio Américo]: He owned an illegal betting game, which here in Brazil is called Jogo de Bicho.
[Lisette]: He is Sérgio Américo, a sports journalist for more than 30 years, who knows a lot about the history of Brazilian soccer. Especially the 80s and 90s, when Kaiser was active as a soccer player.
The Jogo de Bicho, the betting game that Sergio talks about, is a type of lottery based on bets that has existed there for more than 100 years. It is illegal, like all gambling in the country. But in practice, the police do nothing about it, and tickets can be bought at any small store in Rio de Janeiro. Whoever controls that game, of course, manages millionaire figures, but underground.
[Sérgio]: Back then, the owner of a jogo do bicho was called a bicheiro. So Castor was a bicheiro, and Kaiser was a friend of bicheiros.
[Lisette]: Castor de Andrade was at that time perhaps the richest and most powerful of the main bicheiros in Rio. He was also one of the most feared mobsters in the city. He had bought several policemen, politicians and even judges . . . He was not a person you could mess with. But that didn’t scare Kaiser.
[Kaiser]: Porque eu fui criado no meio de bandido. Esse negócio de fuzil na cabeça, sabe? Isso aí não me assusta não, entendeu?
[Lisette]: Because he says he was raised among bandits and he is not scared even with a gun to his head. But there was something special that attracted him about a friendship with Castor de Andrade. The bicheiro had accumulated a fortune with the Jogo do Bicho but he had to “launder” it, because it was illegal. So, he decided to quote-unquote “invest” it in one of the smallest teams in the city: the Bangu Atlético Club. And Kaiser did his thing.
[Sérgio]: He convinced him that he was a good soccer player. And I don’t know, Castor believed him and hired him.
[Lisette]: His plan was the same as always: Stay on the team to say he was a player but never enter the field during a game. The journalist Sérgio Américo describes it this way:
[Sergio]: Que Carlos… conversando vende geladeira para esquimal.
[Lisette]: That just by talking, Carlos Kaiser can sell a refrigerator to an Eskimo. He knew how to identify a person’s weakness or need and exploit it. In the case of Castor de Andrade, the technique to entangle him was praise, says Brazilian sports journalist Martha Esteves.
[Martha Esteves]: Estava sempre elogiando o Castor. Castor você é um pai para mim. Aí o Castor ficava envaidecido …
[Lisette]: Especially since Kaiser kept telling him that he was like a father to him. With those words, he made up for his lack of performance on the field.
[Martha]: Então o Bangu é exemplo do que se fazia nos anos 70 nesse sentido. De botar um jogador que nem era jogador para jogar, por exemplo…
[Lisette]: Martha explains that Bangu is a good example of how small teams worked in the 70s and 80s. They hired players, but not necessarily to play, because friendship with the directors or presidents of the clubs often weighed more than talent. Like Kaiser, who in addition to praise, had a lot to offer the team. Because the goals that he didn’t score, he scored on the outside.
[Kaiser]: Eu tinha tudo o que um jogador queria, entendeu? O jornalista não tinha acesso aos grandes jogadores, eu conseguia grandes entrevistas.
[Lisette]: He also knew how to treat journalists because he helped them get exclusive interviews with the great soccer stars as long as they interviewed him too. He was a born public relations man.
Sérgio Américo, the journalist we already heard from, reported for Radio Globo in the 80s and 90s and remembers very well how Kaiser approached him the first times they met.
[Sérgio]: He wanted to befriend me, right? “Hello, Sergio, how are you doing? You are a star.” “You are the best journalist in Brazil. What an honor to be here by your side” . . . He treated you very well, you know what I mean? And, he was nice, right? That is how I met Carlos.
[Lisette]: But of course, the praises weren’t disinterested. For example, he tried to convince Sérgio to talk about him on his radio show and announce his supposed signing of contracts with teams . . . Most of the time, Sérgio resisted, especially if it was something that couldn’t be verified or sounded very implausible. But sometimes Kaiser managed to convince him, and Sérgio would send him greetings when he was on the air.
Little by little, Kaiser was building a small empire around himself. An empire of sand that, of course, was destined to crumble. The first time he was about to be unmasked was when Castor de Andrade decided he wanted to see him play for Bangu. Kaiser had already spent several months with the team, but between alleged injuries and bruises that occurred during training, he hadn’t played a single game. So one day in ‘85, when Kaiser was 22 years old, Castor ordered the coach to have him play in the match against the Coritiba team the next day.
His coach knew that Kaiser was someone who went out to clubs and bars almost every night. So he called the ones he frequented the most and asked for him. When he found him, he gave him the bad news.
[Kaiser]: Eu falei, pô são quatro da manhã eu estou na boate, como você quer que eu jogue?…
[Lisette]: Kaiser tried to get out of the situation by saying that it was four in the morning, that he was still partying, and that he couldn’t play like that, without preparation. But the coach said not to worry because he planned to just put him on as a substitute. Frustrated, Kaiser hung up the phone and went to his house. He had to show up at the stadium anyway. The next day, when he arrived, he sat on the bench as a substitute and the game started.
[Kaiser]: 5 minutos Coritiba faz 1 a 0. 8 minutos o Coritiba faz 2 a 0.
[Lisette]: Eight minutes into the game, and Coritiba was already beating Bangu 2 to 0. After just 15 minutes, the coach’s walkie talkie rang. It was Castor ordering him to bring Kaiser into the game. Despite Kaiser’s resistance, the coach sent him to warm up. And while he was getting ready, he began to wonder how he would get out of this mess. It was there he heard the words that would save him: the shouts of the Bangu fans who were furious to see team losing. They vented by attacking Kaiser because, after all, they had never seen him play. They started yelling all kinds of insults at him.
[Kaiser]: Aí eu pulo o alambrado antes de entrar em campo, brigo com os torcedores e sou expulso antes de… de jogar, né?
[Lisette]: According to Kaiser, he jumped the net that separated the fans from the field and began to punch the people who insulted him. In a matter of minutes, he was sent off before he could start playing.
He went to the dressing room to wait, happy because he didn’t have to play but nervous about the reaction that Castor de Andrade would have. When the game was over, Kaiser’s teammates told him he would hardly get away with it this time. Minutes later, Castor walked into the locker room and before he could say a word, Kaiser was already warming his ears. He looked at him and said:
[Kaiser]: Deus me deu um pai levou e hoje me deu o segundo . . .
[Lisette]: I’ll translate it literally: “Life gave me a father and took him away, but now it has given me a second one. And when I was there and I heard all the horrible things the fans were saying about you . . . such as you were a bandit . . .”
[Kaiser]: Eu perdi a cabeça pulei, o alambrado, mas o meu contrato acaba daqui a 15 dias e o senhor está livre de mim.
[Lisette]: “I lost my head, jumped over the fence and punched them. I’m very sorry, Castor, my contract ends in two weeks and you are going to get rid of me.”
Castor stared at him, processing what he had just heard. After a moment, he smiled and according to Kaiser . . .
[Kaiser]: E falou “Joel, dobra o salário do Kaiser e renova por mais seis meses.”
[Lisette]: He told the assistant, “Joel, renew Kaiser’s contract for 6 months and double his salary.” Kaiser had managed to score a goal from midfield. Or at least that’s what he always says about his first time at Bangu.
But Kaiser says it was in ’87 or so that he reached the peak of his career. His friend Fabio Barros, known as Fabinho, had been selected to play for Gazélec Ajaccio in France. At that time, Brazilian players were already at the top of the world and were highly valued by European teams. When Kaiser learned that Ajaccio was looking to recruit more stars, he didn’t miss the opportunity. He spoke with Fabinho and that’s how he ended up almost nine thousand kilometers away from his Rio de Janeiro.
[Kaiser]: No primeiro dia que cheguei o estádio estava lotado. Queriam que eu fizesse um treino exibição.
[Lisette]: In his version of the first day he arrived in Corsica, the French island home of Ajaccio, a full stadium of fans was waiting for him. They wanted Kaiser to demonstrate his outstanding abilities. But he said he was very tired. So, he went and looked for a distraction.
He asked Fabinho to get him a bouquet of flowers. He had seen the team president sitting in the stands with his wife.
Kaiser ran to the fence and jumped over. He crossed the stadium seats and, in front of the whole crowd, he handed the flowers to the president’s wife. He gave out hugs and kisses to whoever would accept them, grabbed a Corsican flag, put it on as a cape, and kissed it as he descended. But just at that moment, he saw a man throw some soccer balls onto the field. The gesture of the flowers and the flag had not saved him from the demonstration the fans wanted. One by one, the man was lining up the balls.
But once again, Kaiser was ahead of the game.
[Kaiser]: Todas as bolas que tinham no campo eu chutei para a arquibancada todas, todas, todas não teve coletivo.
[Lisette]: Kaiser kicked all the soccer balls into the stands, where the fans were. It was the perfect alibi: They left with a souvenir of his team, and he wouldn’t have to do much with the ball. His ruse was so effective that, according to Kaiser, even the president of Ajaccio was happy, because later he said . . .
[Kaiser]: Que depois de Napoleão eu era o cara mais importante na história da Córcega.
[Lisette]: That after Napoleon, he was the most important person in the history of Corsica.
His time with Ajaccio was easy for Kaiser. At least on the sports side. He says that he was up-front with the directors from the start, saying he did not want to play.
[Kaiser]: Presidente, os mafiosos, entendeu? Eles gostavam de me levar para as festas, gostavam de me levar para viajar…
[Lisette]: In the version Kaiser gave me, the president of the team supposedly belonged to a group of Mafiosi, so his performance in the sport was the least important thing for him. He hung out at parties, liked to travel, and simply wanted to enjoy Kaiser’s company, which attracted so many people. And that was perfect for him.
And although he was well received at these parties and got to meet a lot of women, Corsica did not impress him. It didn’t compare to his own Rio de Janeiro.
[Kaiser]: Eu falava, eu não quero jogar tô de saco cheio, quero voltar pro meu país.
[Lisette]: Kaiser wanted to return to his country, but the president of Ajaccio didn’t want to lose him entirely. So he allowed him to go to Brazil on the condition that he come back eventually.
[Kaiser]: Aí eles não me vendiam, me emprestavam pro Bangu, pro América, pro Botafogo, pro Vasco, pro Fluminense, entendeu?
[Lisette]: He says Ajaccio loaned him out to various teams in Rio but never sold him. Teams like the ones he mentioned: América, Botafogo, Vasco, Fluminense, and even back to Bangu.
He told me he wouldn’t stay more than six or eight months with each one. It was the maximum time that he could sustain the myth of his incurable injuries.
[Kaiser]: Ah, uma partida inteira, acho que se eu joguei umas dez durante minha vida toda eu joguei muito.
[Lisette]: He confesses it himself: To say that he played 10 full games in his entire career would be a lot. Almost an exaggeration.
His return to Bangu did not go unnoticed. With his skill at public relations, he managed to get the newspaper Jornal dos Sports to publish a note with the title “Bangu now has its king: Carlos Kaiser.” The short note mentioned his time in France, Mexico, the local teams, and predicted good things for the team.
He also got a journalist from the newspaper O Dia to write a profile about him in which he told about his time in France. But mostly, he stressed that he was single. The photo shows him wearing the red and blue Ajaccio shirt, leaning on a soccer goalpost, with one hand on his waist and looking out at the horizon. Now, it’s important here to mention that Kaiser himself gave that picture to the newspaper, to accompany the article. It is one of many that he had, and continues to have of himself on the Ajaccio field wearing the uniform.
But one of his key appearances was on the popular Brazilian soccer review show Mesa Redonda.
[José Carlos Araújo]: O Carlos Kaiser é um jogador de futebol. Ele teve um período de experiência no Vasco…
[Lisette]: In the video, a young Carlos Kaiser is seen with a black, fluffy mane. He is extremely elegant: black blazer and white shirt. But above all, he seems very sure of himself and of the stories he tells about his time at Ajaccio and his contract with Vasco da Gama. At one point in the interview, Kaiser hands over the red Ajaccio shirt with a blue collar to José Carlos Araújo, one of the leading sports commentators in the country. Araújo, smiling, receives it and shows it off in front of the camera.
Kaiser had done it. He got to sit in the same chair where great players such as Renato Gaúcho, Romário, Edmundo, Gérson had sat . . .
[Kaiser]: Eu não me incomodo de ser conhecido como o maior jogador que nunca jogou futebol. Eu não me incomodo em nada com isso.
[Lisette]: He has no qualms about saying it: It doesn’t bother him at all to be known as the best soccer player who never played. And he repeats: it DOESN’T bother him.
There are so many implausible details in Kaiser’s entire story, but maybe this is the one that attracted the most attention. He told me that in 2003, he fractured his ankle and it was only this injury that allowed him to “free himself” from a contract with Ajaccio. That is, doing the math . . . he was under contract to this team for almost twenty years without playing a single game, and this last contract ended when he was about 40.
Even I, who don’t know anything about soccer, know that none of this makes sense. I think it is something that great impostors have in common: By repeating deceptions and half-truths, they lose the ability to calibrate their own lies. And over time, they come to say such exaggerations that they are no longer credible.
But hey, that year Kaiser also got married and officially retired without scoring a goal. He hung up his cleats and said goodbye to the sport.
[Daniel]: But the Kaiser myth does not end there. After the break, all those years of deception finally caught up with the crack player who never played.
We’ll be back.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Before the break, our producer Lisette Arévalo told us the story of Carlos Kaiser, the emperor of Brazilian soccer.
So, to sum it up: a 26-year soccer career, full of feats and anecdotes as impressive as they are downright implausible. According to Kaiser, despite never having touched a soccer ball, despite having played just a dozen competitive matches in all his career, he always managed to get away with it. Well, almost always.
Lisette continues the story.
[Lisette]: Since the day Kaiser hung up his cleats in 2003, nothing was heard from him again. He decided to make a living in other ways and took advantage of his good physical condition to become a bodybuilding coach in a gym . . . where, of course, he only trains women.
It wasn’t until 2011 that his story became known: the story of the best soccer player who never played. Two journalists from the media outlet O Globo heard several anecdotes about Kaiser and how he managed to deceive the leading clubs in Brazil. They decided to look for him, they interviewed him, and published a note entitled: “The story of Carlos Henrique Kaiser: the Forrest Gump of Brazilian soccer.” Forrest Gump, the character from the American film who tells stories so epic that they seem made up . . . like Kaiser’s.
The article made it clear that he was the biggest con man in soccer and compared his story to Leonardo Di Caprio’s character in the famous Hollywood movie Catch Me If You Can. And although that article did not question the veracity of his anecdotes, the same media outlet published a television report that did. Or at least one of them.
In the video, journalist Renato Ribeiro is seen interviewing Kaiser while taking a walk through Rio de Janeiro. He presents it like this:
(ARCHIVE SOUND BITE)
[Renato Ribeiro]: Carlos Henrique Kaiser, 48 anos, teria passagens por grandes clubes do Brasil e até no exterior mais provavelmente você nunca ouviu falar dele. Sabe o porquê. Nunca fez gol, nunca deu um passo decisivo. Nunca deu um drible desconcertante. A especialidade desse atacante era não jogar.
[Lisette]: Kaiser is walking beside Renato with his hands in his pockets. He wears dark glasses with white frames. As Renato introduces him, he smiles slightly, mischievously.
In the report, Kaiser tells the same stories that he told me for this episode. His time at Vasco, Bangu, Ajaccio . . . the parties, his friends . . . He also said that he pretended to talk on the phone with foreign teams to negotiate contracts that never existed. He spoke about his alleged concussions and injuries so as not to have to play. He looks confident, unashamed to confess the facts.
Friends of Kaiser also appeared in the report, corroborating his stories. Like Ricardo Rocha, talking about how he spent his entire career running away from the ball. And Renato Gaúcho himself once said that Kaiser went to a party posing as him.
(ARCHIVE SOUND BITE)
[Renato Gaúcho]: Quando cheguei, o cara falou assim:, não, o Renato já está lá dentro. Era um mini clone meu, né?
[Lisette]: He says Kaiser was his mini-clone.
After hearing his stories, the journalists decided to verify one in particular. I didn’t mention it before, but it is important. According to Kaiser’s account, in 1984 he was part of the Independiente de Argentina team. The year is key, because that was when they won the Intercontinental Cup in a final against an English team, no less than the iconic Liverpool. And although Kaiser watched everything from the bench, he spoke of that victory with great pride. Then . . .
[Renato Ribeiro]: Nós ligamos para o Independiente e houve sim um Carlos Henrique jogando por lá, mas era argentino y não brasileiro.
[Lisette]: They called Independiente and the club told them something surprising: There was a Carlos Enrique on that team—let’s remember, that is Kaiser’s real name—but he was Argentinean, not Brazilian. Kaiser took advantage of his namesake to take the credit for an Intercontinental Cup. But they do not challenge him in that report.
Even so, Kaiser continues to state that he was indeed a champion with Independiente. He continues to pretend that he’s the other Carlos Enrique.
So, I decided to look him up, the Argentinean player, to see what he had to say on the subject. He told me that he only recently found out about Kaiser and what he was doing. And that he was furious when he learned that he had been impersonated.
[Carlos Enrique]: The first thing that came out was a swear word, right? You laugh, but you [bleep].
[Lisette]: Because in hindsight, Kaiser impersonating him might explain why his career never took off.
[Carlos Enrique]: But you do not know the damage that . . . and it was in my best moment. And I had the possibility of . . . of going abroad, and it never happened with me, and having the chance when I was excelling. And I thought, “What’s going on, everything is . . . nothing is working out.” Do you understand? Later, as time passed, I realized there was another Enrique.
[Lisette]: By using his name, Carlos Enrique, and his performance at Independiente to create his contacts, Kaiser had accomplished what the Argentinean never did. It’s only his theory, of course, and we can’t verify it.
But for that reason and others, Carlos Enrique does not consider Kaiser’s actions as something to be celebrated, and much less, idealized.
[Carlos Enrique]: The mischief is all fun. Do what you want with your mischief and your life, not with the life of someone else, pretending to be someone else. Do I make myself clear?
[Lisette]: The reality is that for Kaiser, it wasn’t such a bad thing that the truth about his time at Independiente de Argentina was known. Especially since he has always been adamant in his version, and no matter how often he is contradicted, he continues to insist that he is telling the truth.
But the team that’s at the center of his story is not even Independiente. It’s Ajaccio that supposedly had him under contract for over 10 years. No one had publicly questioned that part of his life—until it reached international ears.
[Louis Myles]: My name’s Louis Myles. I’m a film director and I made a feature documentary on Carlos Kaiser.
[Lisette]: He is the English documentary maker Louis Myles. He learned about Kaiser’s story from some producers who read about him on the social network Reddit, and wanted to make a documentary about his story. Louis liked the idea and in 2015, he and his team traveled to Rio several times to get footage. There they interviewed Kaiser, players who knew him, soccer directors and many of his friends.
[Louis]: But we did 72 interviews and not one single person hated him, really.
[Lisette]: What surprised them most was that they interviewed more than 70 people, and none of them hated Kaiser. And not only that, but they even corroborated certain stories told by him. On that first trip they confirmed, for example, that he had been with Botafogo, Vasco, Fluminense, Bangu, Flamengo and even Ajaccio, at various times between the 80s and the 90s.
But on the second trip, they began to hear contradictory versions and even encountered people who were against Kaiser.
[Louis]: But then we also had people sort of going against him as well. And so, he’s sort of saying, well, that didn’t happen like that or it didn’t happen at all.
[Lisette]: Some clubs and players Louis contacted, for example, denied that Kaiser had been part of their team. And there were players who said that he was never part of those clubs and that he simply bought the jersey of the team he wanted, like Fluminense for example, and walked around Rio de Janeiro with the attitude and confidence of a player. But then, when Louis interviewed former workers and players from those same teams, they were told that Kaiser actually had been there.
It’s all very confusing. The explanation Kaiser has given is that the clubs do not want to admit they were duped, so they prefer to deny it all. Because in addition, Louis verified that Kaiser was registered as a professional soccer player with the Brazilian Soccer Confederation.
I personally tried contacting many players that Kaiser mentions in his stories, but received no response from most. And the few who did answer said they didn’t want to do an interview on Kaiser. Except for one: Miraldo Câmara de Souza, known as Ado, who played for Bangu at the same time as Kaiser. At first, he told me in a WhatsApp message that Kaiser never played for his team. But then he sent me another message telling me the famous anecdote of the fight with the fans at Bangu.
And so, we could continue going around in circles with each of his statements. It’s a common thread when talking about Kaiser and his life: when you think you know the truth, another version comes up and changes everything.
Louis told me that, for his documentary, Kaiser was the one who contacted them with potential interviewees. He was in control of who they could or couldn’t talk to. And although at first that helped them, later they decided to investigate more.
[Louis]: This is the thing: we, we were in a game of cat and mouse. So we, we started getting interviews outside of him setting them up for us.
[Lisette]: They were playing cat and mouse, says Louis. So, they investigated, spoke to, and interviewed more people, and that’s how they got information about someone who was willing to tell them a different story.
[Louis]: And someone tipped us off about who to speak to, to tell us another story about Kaiser. So, we found out about Fabinho.
[Lisette]: Fabinho, Fabio Barros, Kaiser’s friend who had played for Ajaccio.
[Louis]: Because we were making an international film, he said, “I can’t, I can’t have the name of the club I played for a few years to be, you know, to be lied about. I’ve got to tell this truth.”
[Lisette]: Fabinho told them that he could no longer lie about a team he played on for several years. And much less for an international production. This is Fabinho’s audio from the documentary, Kaiser, the greatest footballer player never to play football, released in 2018, where he revealed the truth:
[Fabinho]: A partir de esse momento eu preferi realmente dizer tudo aquilo que é e tudo aquilo que foi. O Kaiser nunca pisou lá em Ajaccio, nem tampouco na cidade, nem muito menos no aeroporto.
[Lisette]: He says Kaiser never set foot in Ajaccio, or in the city of Corsica, not even its airport.
Fabinho says that this whole story about Kaiser as a player for Ajaccio started when he returned from France toward the end of ‘86. His brother lived in his apartment and was good friends with Kaiser. And of course, when Fabinho arrived, Kaiser wasted no time and bombarded him with questions about what Ajaccio was like, what Corsica was like, what language they spoke, what the food was like, what the Club was like . . . Fabinho remembers he asked if he had a souvenir from Ajaccio or if he could show him his professional soccer card.
[Fabinho]: E começou a minha amizade com ele, indo para as boates e chegando nas boates ele também dizendo que era jogador do Ajaccio junto comigo.
[Lisette]: They quickly became friends, and when they went out to the discos, Kaiser took the opportunity to say that he played at Ajaccio with Fabinho. And he just didn’t contradict him.
[Fabinho]: Assim a partir do momento em que ele pediu a carteira, eu já sabia, que era justamente, ele já tinha me dito: essa carteira para mim é…
[Lisette]: Fabinho says that his card as an official Ajaccio player was the most important document he had in his wallet. So when Kaiser borrowed it from him, he knew very well what he wanted to do. If he could create a copy of that card, Kaiser would have it made.
[Fabinho]: Ele sabia que aquilo ali para ele na noite era uma referência. Era tipo um contrato de jogador de futebol.
[Lisette]: The card was the closest you could have to a soccer contract with Ajaccio. The closest thing he would have to certifying his supposed membership on the team for his party nights.
At least, that’s what Louis Myles showed in his documentary, in a recreated scene where a young Kaiser is seen making his official Ajaccio card. You can also see the final product: a laminated paper with the Gázelec Ajaccio logo, with the details of Carlos Kaiser, his photo, and the years for which he had supposedly been hired. They are documents that Kaiser still shows as evidence of his stories along with newspaper clippings where he is mentioned and photos with renowned players.
Louis Myles and his team also carried out another verification process with Fabinho. He took them to the Clube dos Macacos, south of Rio de Janeiro. It is a very popular place where people go to play and watch soccer games on the weekends, Kaiser included.
[Fabinho]: E foi exatamente aqui que ele idealizou, né? Fazer aquelas fotos como se fosse no treino do Ajaccio.
[Lisette]: He says it was there that Kaiser took those photos with the Ajaccio jersey as if he were training in France. For the documentary, Fabinho imitated the feigned poses in the photos that Kaiser had allegedly taken on the Ajaccio field. One of them was the photo that had appeared in the newspaper O Dia that I already mentioned: Kaiser leaning on the goalpost looking out at the horizon. Fabinho’s imitation was an attempt to geolocate Kaiser’s photos and show that they had been faked, taken on that field in Rio and not in France.
The trick worked: Watching the documentary, you can see that it’s the same place, with slight changes due to the maintenance of the club.
[Fabinho]: Quem é do métie percebe muito rápido que não tem nada a ver. Primeiro que ele está com uma camisa oficial de jogo, ta me entendendo?
[Lisette]: He says that anyone who knows a little about the soccer industry could tell that it’s a picture with a fake pose. Mainly because a true player would never wear an official team jersey to training. Also, Kaiser is never seen training with his teammates. He is always alone, either with one arm raised, shouting, and with the ball on the ground, or doing what in Ecuador is known as cascaritas and in Argentina as jueguitos or dominadas, which basically consists of passing the ball from one foot to the other without letting it touch the ground.
Getting to know Fabinho and his story changed everything for Louis and his team. It was unique information that no one else had given him until that moment. They had beaten Kaiser at his own game. Finally, they were the ones with an advantage.
[Louis]: Well, our reaction was, we can’t tell Kaiser this. We need to keep Kaiser away from the story for as long as possible so we can get more people to back this up.
[Lisette]: He says his first reaction was to hide this new information so that Kaiser wouldn’t find out. They wanted to buy time and look for more sources to support Fabinho’s version.
But nothing goes unnoticed for Kaiser.
[Louis]: And then the next morning, he phoned up, absolutely furious.
[Lisette]: Kaiser called them the next day. Furious. He had found out that they had spoken to Fabinho. Louis and his team told him it was best if they met in person for lunch and a chat. So, they decided to meet in a restaurant in the Botafogo neighborhood.
Louis says that when they arrived, Kaiser was waiting for them outside. He could tell from miles away that he couldn’t contain his anger. It took them hours to calm him down. At one point he was crying with rage, but they were finally able to convince him that they needed to talk quietly, and they went, for the first time, to Kaiser’s apartment.
[Louis]: We went up into this one-and-a-half-bedroom flat, in Flamengo, which have been very rundown. There was a gritty mattress on the floor, which stank of it, no bed sheets. So, he’s not living in the best circumstances.
[Lisette]: It was a one-and-a-half-bedroom apartment, with an old mattress, no sheets, and Louis says it had a nasty smell. It was evident that he was not living in the best conditions. Kaiser sat in a chair next to a small refrigerator almost full of magnets with phone numbers for fast food, gyms, pharmacies, water services . . .
He was shaking, moving his hands and feet anxiously. He went from being the confident and cool man who told his stories with ease, to being downcast, vulnerable.
So before filming, Louis spoke with Kaiser, so he would know what the focus of that interview was. They did not want him to tell the same anecdotes that he had told countless times to other journalists. And the same ones that, three years later, he would tell me for this episode. They wanted more. Louis told him that he should tell them exactly how he managed to fool so many people because that would make him look better in front of the audience.
[Louis]: He then proceeded not to do that. He proceeded to give us a nearly three-hour-long interview about his lies and how hard life was and… and about all the bad things that happened to him.
[Lisette]: But Kaiser did everything except that. In an interview that lasted almost 3 hours, he insisted on the same false versions he had already given. He talked about how hard his life had been and all the tragedies that had happened to him. This is an audio of Kaiser speaking in that interview:
[Kaiser]: Eu trago muita sequela. Eu sou um cara muito sequelado. Talvez por isso tenha vivido tanto a vida dos outros, dos jogadores, né? Que era para não parar e pensar na minha vida.
[Lisette]: He told them that he is a guy who has been hurt a lot and has suffered a lot. That maybe that’s why he lived the lives of the other players. To avoid pausing to think about his own.
The interview continued with Kaiser telling what we already know: that he had a sad childhood, that he was stolen from his biological mother, that his adoptive mother was an alcoholic . . .
[Kaiser]: Sabe, porque pô, é tanta adversidade que tu convive, com tanta malandragem cara que ou você é malandro ou você é otário, entendeu?
[Lisette]: That he lived in an environment of so much adversity in Rio that he had only two options: either become a thug or become a loser.
At the end of the documentary interview, Kaiser says that no player or manager had contradicted him up to that point. That Fabinho was the first and that this shows the respect that people in the soccer world he knew during all those years had for him. And that he was upset that someone he considered to be his friend had disproved his story. But it clarified something key for him:
[Kaiser]: Eu podia ter aproveitado a mesma oportunidade, não prejudiquei ninguém.
[Lisette]: That he may have taken advantage of the opportunities he had, but he did no harm to anyone.
[Kaiser]: Cara, nunca tirei nada de ninguém, cara. A vida tirou de mim. Eu comecei perdendo minha mãe…
[Lisette]: That he never took anything from anyone and that it was life that started taking everything away from him, starting with the loss of his biological mother and then his wife, who also died 5 to 6 years after they were married.
[Kaiser]: Eu tirei a minha sorte, não tirei nada de ninguém, entendeu?
[Lisette]: And that the only thing he took was the reins of his luck, nothing more.
When I spoke to him about this, Kaiser told me that if he hurt anyone in his life, it was himself.
[Kaiser]: Se eu prejudiquei alguém abrindo mão da minha carreira, foi a mim mesmo.
[Lisette]: Because with the contacts he had made in soccer and the access he had, he could have really become a Brazilian football star.
Louis told me that when they finished that interview, they agreed to do one more, to talk about Ajaccio. Two days later, when they met to record, Kaiser no longer looked weak. He just looked very angry. And when they asked him about his time with Ajaccio, he was firm about his position: he was not lying, but Fabinho was. And he told them that the person they should talk to was Alexandre Couto, another player who was with Fabinho at Ajaccio.
[Kaiser]: Tudo o que Alexandre fala é verdadeiro, ele é verdadeiro nas palavras dele. Alexandre é autêntico, ele não tem duas caras.
[Lisette]: That he was a sincere, authentic person, who did not have two sides.
Initially, Louis had already interviewed Alexandre and he had corroborated Kaiser’s stories at Ajaccio. But when he was contacted again with the new information collected from Fabinho, Alexandre changed his version:
[Alexandre Couto]: Nunca jogou no Ajaccio.
[Lisette]: Kaiser never played for Ajaccio.
[Alexandre]: Todos os jogadores sabem que essa história é mentirosa, entendeu? Mesmo porque conhecem a minha história, minha e do Fabinho que também que passou por lá. Então todos sabem que ele nunca passou pelo Ajaccio.
[Lisette]: And, according to Alexandre, all the players who heard about that story knew that it wasn’t true. But Kaiser made himself loved because of his charisma, because of how cool he was, and then they simply let his friend live off that fiction.
The truth is, Kaiser doesn’t care how many people contradict his stories. He will not budge. When I talked to him about the documentary, he said that he agreed to participate because he wanted to be honest.
[Kaiser]: Foi para ser sincero e qualquer entrevista que eu dê seja aqui no meu país ou para o exterior, eu vou dizer sempre a verdade, a verdade não me incomoda.
[Lisette]: And that he has always told the truth in the interviews he has given, and that the truth doesn’t bother him. When I asked him about what Fabinho and Alexandre said, he made it sound as if they were liars.
[Kaiser]: Mas no meio num universo de Carlos Alberto Torres . . .
[Lisette]: That of all the famous players who were interviewed for the documentary, only two denied his story. And that, according to him, they did it because they wanted to have a few minutes of visibility. Nothing more.
It is important to say something here. A story like Kaiser’s could hardly be repeated now. Mainly because in the 80s and 90s we did not have the verification tools that we have today. It was easy for a player to walk into a club and say he had played anywhere, from Arabia to France, and for the directors and presidents to believe him. It was the perfect setting for Kaiser to build his myth.
My colleagues at Radio Ambulante tell me that in soccer there is something called dribbling. Some players have it, most don’t. It is the gift of dodging defenses, having a great waist, doing a lot of feints. It is the art of misleading with the ball.
Dribbling is what Kaiser does.
When I asked him very specific questions, he answered something that had nothing to do with it. He dribbled with his elusive answers. He boasts of having deceived soccer clubs in Brazil and abroad, but when you confront him, he won’t accept any questioning. Instead of answering, he talks about how miserable his life has been.
At the end of our last interview, I asked him perhaps the most important question of all.
Many people question or wonder if the anecdotes and stories you tell are real or not . . . But what does Kaiser think about this?
[Kaiser]: Acredita quem quiser. Eu não faço questão de provar nada para ninguém. Seja verdade ou se é a mentira. Cada um que tire suas próprias conclusões.
[Lisette]: Whoever wants to believe, can believe. He won’t try to make people believe him. Let everybody draw their own conclusions.
[Daniel]: Lisette Arévalo is a producer for Radio Ambulante. She lives in Quito, Ecuador.
A special thanks to Louis Myles and Rob Smyth. We learned many details of this story thanks to his documentary and his book Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football. Thank you also for allowing us to use audios from your documentary for this episode.
Since that documentary was released in 2018, Kaiser has risen to fame again. He was invited again to the Brazilian soccer program Mesa Redonda.
Our thanks to journalist Sabrina Duque for her help with the translation. And a special thank you to Pablo Iragorri for bringing us this story.
This story was edited by Camila Segura, Nicolás Alonso, Luis Fernando Vargas, and by me. Desirée Yépez tried to do the fact-checking. The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri and Rémy Lozano with original music by Rémy.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Aneris Casassus, Emilia Erbetta, Xochitl Fabián, Fernanda Guzmán, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Barbara Sawhill, David Trujillo and Elsa Liliana Ulloa.
Carolina Guerrero is the CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.