Confessions of Carlos Kaiser: football’s biggest conman
“I wanted everyone to be annoyed with me and send me away, but they didn’t”
The Kaiser went on to sign for Brazilian clubs Botafogo, Fluminense and Vasco da Gama – though again, he never played. Neither Botafogo or Vasco confirm, nor deny, he was there, while both Bangu and America confirm he was on their books. Former players put him at all five. And they would know, as the Kaiser was friends with many of them, like defender Ricardo Rocha – who was in Brazil’s 1994 World Cup-winning squad and ‘played’ with him at Vasco. “We thought he was funny,” says Rocha. “He managed to never play. He liked the football world; he liked to be with us.”
Another was Fabio Barros, who says he helped the Kaiser achieve the dream of so many young Brazilian players: a place in Europe, even if it was at the second division French team Gazelec, from Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. “I helped him to come to Corsica. I liked him. I thought he deserved an opportunity,” says Barros.
The Kaiser arrived in a blaze of glory – “like a star,” says Barros. But at his official presentation to fans, he was already up to his old tricks. “I shot all the balls into the fans, and the fans loved it,” says the Kaiser. It also meant there were no balls left for him to have to kick. Instead, he presented the club president’s wife with a bunch of flowers. And stayed eight years.
At least, that’s what he says. Michel Mancini was sporting director of Gazelec from 1976 to 1993, and while he remembers Barros, he has no recollection of the Kaiser. Baptiste Gentili was in charge of Gazelec when the Kaiser was on the playing staff, but the veteran coach doesn’t remember the Brazilian. “I am a child of Ajaccio,” says Gentili. “Not a lot of Brazilians came here and played. We know them. I can assure you that if he passed by the club, he didn’t stay for eight years. His name is not part of the history of the club; he didn’t leave any trace. His story is not credible.”
However, both Mancini and Gentili remember two Brazilians passing through for a couple of months in the ’80s – it seems more likely that he was one of these. The Kaiser also claims to have spent three months at a club in El Paso, Texas. The Brazilian left, he says, because it was too hot.
A footballer's lifestyle
Back in his homeland, the public believed every word. In this pre-internet age, his story was impossible to check. “In our era, football was on television but we didn’t know much of what was going on in other countries,” says Alexandre Torres, who was at both Vasco and Fluminense with the Kaiser. “He said he came from a team in France in the second division. You had no idea whether that was true or not – you just had his word, and a photo from a newspaper. I know he never played. It’s an incredible story, what happened, because football is always very competitive. Everyone always wants to play.”
One of the Kaiser’s best friends was Renato Gaucho, who later became a celebrated coach. The Kaiser bore a certain resemblance to the Brazil international, and sometimes impersonated him in clubs and bars. One night, Gaucho arrived at a nightspot and gave his name at the door – only to be told that he was, in fact, already inside. Gaucho already knew who it was: the Kaiser. But the players didn’t mind. They thought his scam was funny. “He is a friend. He is very dear to all of us,” says former America squad-mate Mauricio. “He never did anyone any harm; he just wanted to be happy. And he had big hair!”
In the early-’90s, at Botafogo, the Kaiser even employed a prop in his subterfuge: a clunky, brick-shaped mobile phone he talked on huddled in a corner of the dressing room. Overheard snippets of conversation, sometimes in English, suggested other clubs were trying to lure him away. Until one day Ronaldo Torres, a trainer, hid behind him and discovered the mobile was a toy. “I pretended to be talking to other bosses,” laughs the Kaiser. “I wanted everyone to be annoyed with me, and send me away. But it didn’t work out.”
There is a tradition in Rio of the malandro – a street-wise hustler who plays the angles and gets the girls; a ruffian with charm, celebrated in the lyrics of a thousand sambas. “He was very malandro,” says Mauricio. “From Rio, smart, and a beach kid.” The two men hung out. “Parties, women. We went out a lot. We were single. It all happened.” Carlos had the patter. “Women liked him because he had the language of a goalscorer and hung out with footballers, but he wasn’t a footballer.”
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