He wanted to be a player, without having to play. Jack Lang tells the story of Carlos Henrique Kaiser.
His CV is that of a relatively successful, if transient, Brazilian striker. An impressive collection of domestic clubs – Vasco da Gama, Flamengo, Fluminense, Botafogo – is complimented by more exotic names; Ajaccio in Corsica, and Mexican side Puebla. Yet Carlos Henrique Kaiser is nigh-on unknown in the football community, and for good reason; he only managed around 30 full games (and no goals) during a career that spanned over two decades.
This, however, is not another sob story of injury, hardship, and wasted potential. At least not directly. Kaiser, far from being a victim of circumstance, achieved an unerring mastery of his own destiny; eking out a living in the game despite possessing neither the ability nor the application necessary for success on the pitch. His tale is that of a man who, in his own words, “wanted to be a player, without having to play.”
Born into a relatively poor family, the young Carlos Henrique dreamt of a more comfortable life. As so often in Brazil, football presented itself as the most salient means to this end; Kaiser entered the Botafogo academy system, before switching to Flamengo. At the age of 16, he was spotted by a scout from Puebla, and travelled to Mexico to turn professional. That adjective would rarely be appropriate thereafter.
As adolescence segued into adulthood, Kaiser’s talent faded. Simultaneously, he became attached to the lifestyle of the footballer; partying and womanising were his true vocations, and didn’t come cheap. To maintain his social standing, then, Kaiser needed a way to stay in the game. His solution was a lesson in subterfuge and cunning. He became, in the words of former teammate Ricardo Rocha, “the biggest conman in Brazilian football.”
Well-connected in footballing circles (he listed the likes of Romário, Edmundo, and Renato Gaúcho among his friends), Kaiser would ‘hijack’ transfers involving his peers; asking to be included as a makeweight in potential deals. This tactic would usually earn the striker a trial contract of three months at a new club.
At this point, the second stage of his plan kicked in; despite being fairly fit, Kaiser would declare himself out of shape, and ask for a couple of weeks in which to recover peak physical form. When he finally appeared in a proper training session, Carlos Henrique would boot the first ball that came his way, before immediately collapsing in apparent agony. At a time before extensive medical assessment, this charade routinely bought Kaiser another month or two on the physio’s table.
His antics, however, didn’t stop there. Whilst at Botafogo, Kaiser would frequently receive solicitous phone-calls from other clubs, which he answered and rebuffed within earshot of teammates and club directors. The problem? Kaiser was using a toy phone. Fitness coach Ronaldo Torres recalls the ruse: “He pretended to be speaking English, but he got everything wrong. One day I discovered that he wasn’t talking to anybody.”
On another occasion, Kaiser was called upon by Bangu coach Moisés to come on as a substitute in a match against Coritiba. Petrified of being exposed as a fraud, Kaiser instead instigated a fight with fans behind the dugout. He was sent off before getting onto the pitch. According to the man himself, the episode had a happy ending; he was rewarded with a new contract after telling club owner Castor de Andrade that he had been sticking up for him.
To perpetuate his own myth, the striker was forced into ever-greater acts of ingenuity. Arriving for his first training session in Corsica, Kaiser was perturbed to find a stand full of excited Ajaccio fans in attendance, eager to catch a glimpse of the club’s new Brazilian signing. This was not, he sensed, a time for the immediate injury routine. Instead, after soaking up the initial applause, Kaiser proceeded to kick every last football on the pitch into the crowd. This impromptu distribution of souvenirs left the squad without the means to play a practice match, and ensured that the session consisted of physical drills only. Which, of course, was fine for Carlos Henrique.
The accuracy of such anecdotes, of course, cannot be taken as gospel, given Kaiser’s propensity for yarn spinning. Certain of his tales undoubtedly ring false. His claim, for instance, that he was part of the Independiente’s squad that won the 1984 Copa Libertadores, has been vehemently denied by the Argentine club. Even the putative origin of his name smacks of self-aggrandisement; ‘Kaiser,’ he claims, was a nickname bestowed upon him by friends who saw similarities between his playing style and that of (famous non-striker) Franz Beckenbauer.
The likelihood of exaggeration, however, hardly harms the allure of Kaiser’s tales, particularly in a country as susceptible to myth as Brazil. His career also tells of the informality of the game in the country, especially in the days before the internet; he was able to get away without proving himself on the pitch, merely in virtue of his affable nature and the respectability of his affiliates.
Kaiser himself sees the funny side of his experiences, claiming that he harbours no regrets over deceiving so many clubs. Ironically, it seems that the real victim may have been Carlos Henrique himself, as he revealed earlier this year: “If I had been more dedicated, I could have gone further in the game.” Many would argue that he went quite far enough.
Jack is a regular contributor to IBWM, and also runs the superb Snap, Kaká, and Pop! Brazilian football blog. This story contains quotes translated from an interview given to Globo Esporte.