What happens when the Wolf of Wall Street meets Frank Abagnale? What if those two were amalgamated with Forrest Gump and Pinocchio? And what if this mismatched creation desired sporting fame without the on-pitch greatness?
According to Louis Myles — the film’s director — these elements create Kaiser, the greatest footballer never to play football.
While Abagnale, one of the world’s most infamous impostors, claimed to assume no fewer than eight different identities, Carlos Henrique Raposo — commonly known as Kaiser for his youthful likeness to German legend Franz Beckenbauer — made use of just one; that of a footballer.
Having pedalled this same alias to ten different clubs across Brazil, America, Mexico and France between 1979 and 1992 — including Rio de Janeiro’s main teams Botafogo, Fluminense and Flamengo — he carved out a career unlike any other. Over 13 years as a paid senior professional, Kaiser registered zero minutes on the pitch.
“He’s such a strange character. What we had here was this illicit mix,” Myles told the Sports Gazette.
When you consider this tale in the context of today’s commercialised beast, it’s not just implausible, but impossible. Remember Ali Dia? The one-time Southampton player who fooled manager Graeme Souness into giving him a 55-minute cameo in 1996 on the understanding that he was George Weah’s cousin?
Well Kaiser is everything Dia dreamed of being. But that was the Premier League, whereas Brazil was Kaiser’s playground. And times were different in the 1980s. Statistics were neither as widespread nor as in-depth as they are today. YouTube didn’t exist, nor did Google. Word of mouth was the currency and Kaiser had vast reserves of it.
It was this that first attracted Myles to the story.
“We wanted to know how much of it was true. We learned that he was a conman, a famous liar. It was this big mystery and it became a big passion to try and unravel his story. That was something we did as we filmed. This was an absolute dream for me.
“You hear mad stories that you can never broadcast, but this was a proper tale. It gets you to really examine what you believe and what you don’t.”
But how does one come to hear about these tales? “I was brought the story by Dr Tom Markham,” Myles said. The duo had worked together on a Football Manager documentary in 2014.
“He had heard this story via a friend of his, Rob Fullam, who found it on a Reddit forum. It had to be translated from Portuguese.”
This was in 2013, and it wasn’t until Kaiser’s story became the topic of conversation on two consecutive nights in Rio during the 2014 World Cup that wheels were truly set in motion.
A year later, they approached Myles. Like any good proposition, it was conducted on a visit to the pub. “When I heard about it I was bouncing off the walls. After a few pints we said someone should make a film about it. This quickly led to us deciding to make a film about it,” Myles said.
Film-making is a difficult proposition on its own, but place this in the context of a world in which Kaiser is the centre and it becomes extraordinarily tough. This isn’t just Kaiser’s space, either. Rather a warped reality wherein the divide between fact and fiction is thinly veiled. Where they are one. Where deceit is everything and the truth is nothing.
“The challenge was telling the story of not all you see is true. And on top of that having to question whether we were being conned as film-makers. He led us on a little dance.
“He had a load of influence and a load of persuasion. That’s what makes the story so good. It was a game of cat and mouse between us and him. Everything took you by surprise.”
If Kaiser was the cat, Myles and the crew were the mice. They had to escape his clutches and find ways of deceiving someone that knows nothing else but deceit. But that proves somewhat problematic when this particular cat knows every other cat in Brazil and retains a significant degree of influence over them.
“We started to find interviews outside Kaiser’s knowledge,” Myles explained, “but he would always find out.
“He had his finger in so many pies that he would get to the interviewees. We would set up a meeting with Zico, for example, and by the time we got there, he would have already been on to him.”
Myles recounts one particular story, laughing as he does so.
“I flew up to Manaus to meet a lawyer friend of his. Kaiser didn’t even know we were leaving. I told him I’d see him tomorrow, I got onto an early flight to Manaus and the others hadn’t even met Kaiser yet that day. I’d already started chatting to this guy and by the time Kaiser met with the other part of the film crew, he already knew.”
It’s all fun and games, but the laughter ceases when the harsh realities of the film industry begin to dawn. These are the challenges of the film-maker, Myles explained.
“You can’t confidently say to everyone that it’s going to be good because we were finding other stories as we went. We didn’t know how the film would pan out after each trip.
“It all sounds great on paper, but actually getting people to commit to distribution and raising money behind it is different because people like to do stuff you can guarantee will pay off and be worthwhile.
“All of this is in the back of your mind. Firstly, how are you going to get this money? Secondly, how are you going to put this together? And lastly, how are you going to get this out there and be confident that it’s going to be okay?
“It’s worked,” Myles said with a hint of relief, “which has been great.”
Cinema is a tough industry to crack, by Myles’ own admission, but is that a reason for aspiring journalists-turned-film-makers to be put off?
“I’d never say ‘don’t do it’ because you never know. I’ve had to fight to get a lot of opportunities, but there’s space for it certainly.”
When all is said and done, when the glitz and glamour of Kaiser’s lovable rogue story are removed, we’re left with a liar. Plain and simple. But when the society in which we live differs so dramatically to the story’s setting, how can we judge?
“I don’t judge him,” Myles said. “Brazil is a place where children are in extreme poverty. Kaiser was poor in Rio and could have become become a murderer or a bank robber. Or he could have led a normal existence. Instead he pretended to be a footballer. I think it’s fun.”
Myles added: “Ultimately what’s the issue? Who really got hurt?”
One could argue the clubs he deceived were hurt the most, but Myles rebuffed this. “He didn’t earn that much money out of it. He did it for the lifestyle.”
And what a lifestyle it was. A Rio de Janeiro socialite. Partying with celebrities, footballers and crime lords, even though Kaiser himself doesn’t actually drink.
Kaiser’s tale is the stuff of legend. “A journey of unbelievability,” as Myles so aptly summarised. It’s both fascinating and entertaining. Believable yet entirely unbelievable. And Myles is left with one thing that transcends all the perils of the industry.
“I have dinner party stories for the rest of my life,” he boasted. The envy of all.
Featured photograph/Louis Myles/Kaiser Film