Film Review: Kaiser – The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before…

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football is the true story (sort of) of Carlos Henrique Raposo.

Henrique Raposo, known to all as ‘Kaiser’, had a remarkable career spanning three decades. During this time, Kaiser signed for all of Rio de Janeiro’s big four: Flamengo, Fluminense, Vasco de Gama, and Botafogo. That is a roll call of enough internationally renowned clubs to make Kaiser a legend, and in a way, that’s the only word that can be used to define the man. 

Despite a 26-year career at the top, Kaiser never played a game of professional football. Ever. 

This is not the story of a striker, but of a con artist who stole the footballer lifestyle by travelling from club to club with forged papers and tall tales of his previous exploits. Once inside, he would feign injury, or do whatever else it took, to ensure he’d never have to actually play and see his cover blown by his lack of talent. 

Instead, he gorged himself upon all of the many women, parties and luxuries that came with being a football star. In the process, he became friendly with some of the most powerful, and frightening, individuals in the Brazilian domestic game throughout the 1980s and 1990s. All without ever letting an actual football go anywhere near him. 

Kaiser’s feats could not be replicated in the modern world, where a cursory google search would see his empire of lies crumble into dust as fine as the Copacabana sands. Nor would Kaiser have been able to maintain his presence within these top clubs were they not often run by mob bosses, who appreciated the off-field services that the great pretender was able to provide. 

This sense of a time gone by is captured beautifully by the film’s director, Louis Myles. With a wicked sense of humour and cinematography as vibrant and lively as the backstory our protagonist habitually armed himself with, Kaiser is a documentary which flies by with a flashing grin and a belting soundtrack.

Much credit must also go to the interviewees (who include such luminaries of the Brazilian game as Zico, Bebeto and Renato Gaucho), who without exception are open and forthcoming about their knowledge of and relationship with Kaiser. Of course though, the true star of the show is Kaiser himself, even if his own version of many events must be taken with a healthy pinch of salt. 

Poster for new Kaiser documentary

The anecdotes provided by the interviews form the basis of many of the excellent dramatic reconstructions. For instance, the occasion when Kaiser resorted to hopping a fence and punching a fan, rather than have to enter the pitch, is a sequence reconstructed with great storytelling skill. This underpins the success of the entire film. Kaiser’s own talent for spinning captivating yarns had to be matched by this production, and it was. 

There is a knowingly kitsch feel to these reconstructions of Kaiser’s antics; as thick cigar smoke unfurls around mob bosses, and individuals scantily clad in Speedos and bikinis are never far away. This story is told with the effervescence and lightness of touch it commands. 

Until, that is, when reality sets in in the final act. The man behind the mask, Carlos Henrique Raposo himself, is as interesting a subject here as his remarkable alter ego. When we finally get to meet the real him, we realise what a not only rollicking and bombastic but poignant journey it is that we’ve just been on.

Kaiser’s story, told so wonderfully by this film, is an astonishing and barely-believable account of how a lie can be spun into a whole new reality. It’s also a reminder of just how much it is that football means to the world, to Brazil, and to one man who saw it as his only means of making a better life – despite being rubbish at the game itself. 

Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never to Play Football is out in UK cinemas on 29th July. Find out about participating cinemas and screening information here.