Confessions of Carlos Kaiser: Soccer’s biggest conman
Pictures: Luciana Whitaker
It's an incredible story – the stuff of Hollywood movies. Much of it is even true, although exactly how much only one man knows. That man is Carlos Henrique: ‘The Kaiser.’ For 24 years, he was a professional footballer, at Brazilian teams such as Botafogo and Fluminense, in Mexico, the United States and France. He was friends with some of the biggest players of his day. And he spent his entire career avoiding the ball.
“He wanted the cake,” says former frontman Mauricio de Oliveira Anastacio, who was with the Kaiser at Rio-based team America. “He wanted to be in the middle of the footballers, he wanted to be considered a footballer, but he didn’t want the responsibilities of a footballer.” And through a combination of guile, charm and sheer front, the Kaiser succeeded.
In the Rio gym where today he works as a trainer, Carlos Henrique smiles from behind his wraparound sunglasses and tells his story. “I didn’t play. Literally, I didn’t play,” he says. “Because I didn’t want to play.”
“I wanted to have fun... I had no notion of professionalism”
Carlos was an adopted child, raised in Rio by his mother, a cook, and his father, who worked for an elevator company
Carlos Henrique was born in Porto Alegre on July 2, 1963. Or so he says – and with everything he says, caution has to be exercised (for example, with the idea his nickname came from comparisons to Franz Beckenbauer). Marcio Meira, who trained the Kaiser at Fluminense, calls him the ‘171’ of Brazilian football: 171 is the penal number given to conmen in jail. “That’s the number he responds to!” says Meira, laughing. “He knew how to convince people. In conversation, he robs you.”
The Kaiser is 53 today, and trains female body-builders. He has a rugged, easy charm, and a conspiratorial grin. As customers and trainers wander in and out of the gym, everybody greets him. The Kaiser nods and grins. Everybody likes him.
Carlos was an adopted child, raised in Rio by his mother, a cook, and his father, who worked for an elevator company. Like a lot of kids, he would play barefoot in the street. “I had no notion of professionalism,” says the Kaiser, who, like his dad, was a Botafogo fan. “I wanted to have fun. I liked to study; to read.”
At 10, he was spotted by a Botafogo talent scout. His parents signed him to an agent, and he went to live in the Botafogo youth camp. “My family began to oblige me to play. This caused problems. The truth was that my mother saw salvation in me.”
His parents died when he was 13 and at 16, he signed for Mexican team Puebla as a centre-forward. “The guys saw qualities in me,” he says. “I shot well. I was strong.”
But he didn’t like Mexico, telling FFT, “As soon as I arrived there, I wanted to go home.” He hated the food. And he hated playing football. “I didn’t want to play,” he says. He featured in a couple of friendlies and thinks he even scored from a free kick. But the would-be Kaiser had already found a way out. He would call for the ball in training, prime a shot – then collapse in pain, clutching his thigh. “They did everything to make me play,” he says. “I would say, ‘I have muscle pain.’ How were they going to prove it?”
I started to warm up and the supporters behind the fence began to shout at me. I jumped over the fence to fight with the supporters, so I could get sent off and not play
The same muscle ‘injury’ pursued him for the rest of his career. Having signed him, coaches would convince themselves that the Kaiser would recover from this persistent injury; that he would deliver. Nobody wanted to admit they had signed a dud. “It was that expectation – ‘he’s going to play.’” he says. “But on the day of the game, I had already injured myself warming up.”
In the days before magnetic imaging, he could spin this out endlessly. Only once did the ploy fail. The Kaiser was on the bench for his team, Rio’s Bangu, who were 2-0 down with eight minutes to go. The trainer had promised him at 4am the previous night in a disco that he wouldn’t actually have to go on. But the walkie-talkie began to crackle: Castor de Andrade, the owner of Bangu, wanted the Kaiser on the pitch. The reluctant sub had to think of a plan – and quick.
“I started to warm up and the supporters behind the fence began to shout at me. I jumped over the fence to fight with the supporters, so I could get sent off and not play.” It worked. The Kaiser was sent off.
Afterwards in the dressing room, De Andrade was furious. Using the formal term of respect for an older man, the Kaiser told the president that he had replaced the father he had lost at 13, that the fans had been calling De Andrade “a thief”, and that he had vaulted the fence to defend the honour of his boss. De Andrade’s rage disappeared. “He grabbed me and gave me a kiss, then organised a new contract for me,” grins the Kaiser. “One more year.”
Castor de Andrade has been dead for nearly 15 years, but the Kaiser’s reputation still lingers at Bangu. “We know the stories. He was contracted by the club; at one point he did a whole season,” says Bangu’s director of marketing, Pedro Nardelli. “Castor liked someone who was an artist in the art of tricking.” The club even tried to renew the Kaiser’s contract – but he declined. “He got worried. He didn’t want to stay another season,” continues Nardelli. “He wanted to go somewhere else and trick someone else, as the lie didn’t last for very long.”
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