By passing himself off as the popular striker Renato Gaúcho, Carlos Raposo, led a life of Brazilian celebrity — and willing women.
As the clock moved past 3 a.m. one Saturday in Rio de Janiero, Renato Gaúcho decided it was time to hit the town. He headed to the nearest nightclub, which he knew would not close until people were getting up for work, and approached the door. Gaúcho didn’t pay to get into nightclubs. He was a superstar, a maverick winger, and the biggest heartthrob in Brazilian football. When he announced who he was and that he had been invited by the owner, the bouncer wore the universal expression of insulted intelligence.
“Do you think I look like an idiot?” he said. “Renato Gaúcho is already in there. You might look like him, but you’re not coming in.”
Gaúcho was both intrigued and affronted. He asked if he might see this Renato Gaúcho. After some negotiation, the bouncer walked him inside and pointed to a table in the VIP section where a look-alike was holding court with a group of women. Renato smiled knowingly and left the nightclub. “What,” he says with a laugh three decades later, “can I do with a guy like that?”
Welcome to the crazy world of Carlos Henrique Raposo, known to almost everyone as Kaiser. For 26 years he lived the life of a professional footballer, despite having no aptitude for or intention of kicking a ball. Gaúcho calls Kaiser “the greatest footballer never to play football.” All Kaiser wanted was the lifestyle—particularly the women—that came with such status.
Kaiser grew up in Cabeça de Porco in Botafogo, where street wisdom is often more important than IQ. This is a world where, for many, survival is the main aim, the hustle never ends, and kids have no option but to live on their wits and audacity from a very early age. “You either become what I became,” Kaiser says, “or you become a loser.”
In December 1974, he was at school, barely a teenager, when he demonstrated his imaginative problem solving. The pupils took exams to determine which class they would be in the following year, and Kaiser’s mother threatened to cancel Christmas if he didn’t reach a certain level. He knew he probably had not done enough, so on the last day of the term, he manufactured a bomb scare to ensure the school was evacuated and shut down. By the time the results were announced in the new year, Kaiser had enjoyed his Christmas.
“I’m an example of somebody who has survived through guile and willpower,” he says. “When you come from a poor background in Brazil, you have three ways of earning respect: You have to be good at football, good at fighting, or do well with the ladies.” Football was Kaiser’s route out of poverty. It did not make him wealthy, but it provided him with another valuable currency: celebrity, which he used to get everything from a free meal to an orgy. “I could be penniless,” he says, “but if I had to take a girl out to dinner in the best place in Rio, I could.”
Rio loves a malandro, a lovable rogue. And like all good malandros, Kaiser woke up each day with no idea where the mood would take him. His world was like a variation on the famous poster for the film The Truman Show, with thousands and thousands of small lies coming together to create one giant fantasy: his life.
The scale of his deception is mind-blowing. At various stages, Kaiser was at all four of Rio’s biggest clubs: Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco da Gama, and Botafogo. He signed for two other Rio clubs, Bangu and America, and has multiple stories about playing for teams in France, Argentina, Mexico, and the U.S.
He would approach a senior figure, often the president, armed with a recommendation from another player and a verbal CV that would have made Walter Mitty blush. Not that Kaiser ever blushed. Whether at a nightclub or a football club, he was immune to the embarrassment of rejection. Trying his luck was therefore a no-lose situation, and it worked often enough for him to get a short-term deal—which in turn gave him more clout for his next scam.
Kaiser’s usual trick was to excel in the physical work and then, as soon as the ball came out, pull up midsprint holding his hamstring or thigh. With MRI technology in its infancy—and with no Internet to investigate his CV—nobody was the wiser. Kaiser had plenty of other ways to ensure he didn’t have to play ball. He would pay youth-team players to hit him with a crunching tackle so he could feign injury, his grandmother died multiple times to give him an excuse to avoid training, and on one occasion he arrived with an official letter from a dentist friend stating that his leg problems were linked to his teeth, and that he should under no circumstances play football until the problem was solved. One club even paid somebody to try magic on Kaiser, with no success. Not even supernatural forces can cure an injury that doesn’t exist.
As time went on, many players—and some coaches—suspected what Kaiser was up to, but they played along because they loved having him around. Crucially, the senior figures, often people who should not be crossed under any circumstances, both liked and believed Kaiser. Nobody was going to expose the president’s pet. Most of them wanted him to stay anyway: He made them laugh with his stories, he was forever in the company of beautiful women, and he acted as an unofficial babysitter.
“He was always willing to do favors for a player,” says Carlos Alberto Torres, the captain of Brazil’s World Cup–winning side of 1970. “Clothes shopping. Fancy restaurants in Rio. He was a guy who charmed everybody around him. He was a friend to all the players in all the clubs because of his likability and his kindness. He’s a really cool, polite guy.”
Kaiser now has the memory of an elephant one day, a goldfish the next. Some of this stories happened only in his own head, but others place him at various clubs, and as friends with Romário, Torres, Edmundo, Bebeto—not to mention Renato Gaúcho. Kaiser went one better than most impostors by becoming best friends with the man he was impersonating. One woman even named her son Renato Kaiser in tribute to both men. “He’s going to be a superman,” Renato Gaúcho says. “My technique and skill combined with Kaiser’s sweet talk? Oh my God.”
Kaiser’s talk was rarely sweeter than on one famous day at Bangu. In the 1980s the club was owned by Castor de Andrade, the most powerful mobster in Rio. He wanted Bangu to assume similar status within Brazilian football. They almost managed it in 1985, when they came within a penalty shoot-out of becoming champions of Brazil for the first time in their history.
Around the same time, Kaiser was enjoying his first spell at Bangu, relaxing on the treatment table and in nightclubs like Caligula and Hippopotamus. He got on famously with Castor, partly because of his uncanny ability to find attractive young women with a taste for sexagenarian mobsters. Castor was desperate to see what his star could do on the field. One day he announced that Kaiser would be on the substitutes’ bench for the next game, though the coach, Moisés, privately assured Kaiser that in the best interests of all concerned, he would stay on the bench. If Castor found out Kaiser had been having him on, there would not have been much scope for a happy ending.
When Bangu went 2-0 down, Castor sent a message to the bench that it was time to introduce his new star. Kaiser was told to do a quick warm-up, during which he was ridiculed by homophobic sleuths who deduced from his luxurious mane that he was a “long-haired faggot.” It was then that Kaiser effected a magnificent volte-face, or rather a volte-farce. He started brawling with supporters and was sent off by the referee before he could go on the pitch. After the game he was summoned to see Castor and launched straight into the most important lie of his life. Kaiser told his boss that he viewed him as his second father, and the supporters had been calling the owner a crook. Kaiser was not having that, so he fought with them. Castor extended Kaiser’s contract and doubled his pay.
Kaiser’s story is told in a feature-length documentary, due for release in 2018. It includes interviews with some of Brazil’s greatest players, who speak of him with affection and reverence. All provided their own laugh track; some were in tears.
That may seem odd, given Kaiser’s on-off relationship with the truth, but that is the Brazilian way. Confidence tricksters are known as 171s—the number used in the penal code to refer to scams—and are romanticized and celebrated. Kaiser is regularly described as a shining example of a good 171: Your friendly neighborhood con man. “He never hindered anybody,” says Renato Gaúcho. “He never screwed anybody over. You won’t find anybody with a bad word to say about Kaiser. I clicked with him as soon as we met.”
In Rio, the gap between rich and poor is eye-widening. Hilly favelas—the Rio slums depicted so vividly in the film City of God—provide a sobering backdrop to beachside opulence. The best way out of poverty has always been football, and many of Brazil’s greats were favelistas. One example is Romário, whose poor background was evident every time he went one-on-one with the goalkeeper. It was not enough to score; Romário had to embarrass or humiliate the goalkeeper and remind him who had the greater sporting wealth.
Kaiser’s story coincided with the last golden age of Brazilian domestic football, when jogo bonito was a reality rather than a marketing slogan. Romário was central to that. In 1995, when he was the best player in the world, he chose to leave Barcelona to return to Flamengo. Such a move is unthinkable now, but in those days the allure of local football was enormous. Brazil were world champions, and their domestic game was overflowing with skill, personality, and mischief.
Romário’s move catalyzed a famous rivalry to decide who was the king of Rio. During the Campeonato Carioca, the prestigious state championship, Romário (Flamengo), Gaúcho (Fluminense), and Túlio (Botafogo) were constantly celebrating their own achievements, past and future, in the press. It was a playful, almost pantomime rivalry that captured the imagination of Rio. Túlio was the top scorer, but it came to down to Gaúcho vs. Romário in the final at the Maracanã. Gaúcho scored as Fluminense went 2-0 up; Romário replied to help Flamengo level at 2-2. With five minutes to go, Aílton’s shot was chested in from close range by Gaúcho. The “belly goal” went straight into Brazilian football folklore.
The next day, after he’d gone to bed at 7 a.m., the press dressed him up as the king of Rio for a photo shoot. He was born in Guaporé but became obsessed with Rio from the moment he first went there. “In Rio you go to the beach and sit next to a millionaire or a guy who doesn’t even have enough money to eat,” he says, “and every kind of person is making the most of a sunny day and the sea, having a beer, looking at a pretty woman and a great view. I live in Rio de Janeiro. Is there anything better than that?”
Gaúcho was a superstar, the first sex symbol of Brazilian football, yet in Europe he’s almost unknown. There was a miserable season at Roma in 1988–89, when dressing-room politics and Italian discipline weakened him. Although he appeared 41 times for Brazil, he played only five minutes at the World Cup. His time might have been 1986, but he was kicked out of the squad by Telê Santana after an almighty controversy in which a number of players missed a training-camp curfew. “He had an amazing career in Brazil, very illustrious,” says Ricardo Rocha, the World Cup–winning defender. “He was without doubt one of the best attackers in Brazilian football. I can vouch for that.”
Gaúcho and Kaiser were inseparable—and, to many, indistinguishable. There was an endearing logic to Kaiser’s plan to model himself on Gaúcho, arguably the most desired man in Brazil. Kaiser wore similar clothes, became best friends with him, and—the clincher—homaged his imperious mullet. Some women will go to their grave thinking they’d slept with Renato Gaúcho. Kaiser knows better.
Gaúcho is all grown up now, a statesmanlike manager, and he doesn’t like to dwell on his womanizing past. The story goes that he once approached a confused Pelé in a nightclub, boasting that, for every one of Pelé’s 1,000 goals, he had a notch on the bedpost. Kaiser claims to have reached that landmark as well. Some dispute that, but everybody concurs that he had a way with women—whether he was chatting them up for himself or somebody else. “He was a known figure among the players in Rio,” says Gonçalves, who played for Brazil in the 1998 World Cup. “We’d say, ‘Let’s go to Studio C tonight. Call Kaiser. Get him to bring along some girls to come out with us.’”
Kaiser says he is addicted to sex. “My whole life has revolved around sex. There are no other hobbies. If I went to a nightclub I’d spend 10 minutes chatting up a girl and then leave. You just take her into the first bathroom and the first available cubicle, give her one, and then leave. This all comes from the culture in which I was raised. I came from a very poor culture among ignorant people, so I had it in my head that to have sex you needed to be macho. It’s not something I’m particularly proud of.”
Kaiser has stories of partying with everyone from Diego Maradona to Freddie Mercury. Now in his early 50s, he knows that the good times are past, which has led to some uncomfortable introspection. He is a fitness instructor who works only with women. The party may be over, but the upcoming film has given him a second wind of celebrity, and the chance to embellish his crazy story.
“If he’d actually been a footballer,” Gaúcho points out, “you wouldn’t be making a documentary about him.”