With some books you need just to look at the cover and you know you will love it. ‘Kaiser: The Greatest Footballer Never To Play Football’ immediately ticked all of my boxes – a great writer telling an interesting story I knew very little about.
Rob Smyth is a really good sports writer whose minute-by-minutes are always a treat and his previous book Danish Dynamite is a brilliant look book at the Danish Golden Generation of the late 80’s.
As for the story, well where to begin. Carlos Henrique Raposo, known to all as Kaiser, is a legendary figure in Brazilian football. Legendary for his stories and his off the pitch exploits rather than anything on the pitch – because he never actually played a professional game.
Kaiser, which he was named either after Franz Beckenbauer or after an overly round beer bottle, enjoyed a lengthy “career” as a professional footballer at all of Rio’s top clubs, as well as teams in France and Mexico. Or at least he might have. While some of his stories check out – and he had contracts with many teams – many of his tales may exist only in his own imagination. What is clear is that Kaiser managed to get on the books of teams and use that status to the absolute maximum benefit.
Rob Smyth had quite a difficult job trying to corroborate Kaiser’s tales. Kaiser – it feels wrong to call him by his real name – is allowed to tell his own story throughout the book and he proves just as unreliable as a narrator as he was a footballer. Even those stories that at first appear corroborated by other players seem to ultimately be false.
It is a frankly almost unbelievable biography of a life that could only have been lived before the internet. It’s full of great anecdotes from footballers of the time as they remember Kaiser’s antics fondly. None top the tale of how Kaiser avoided being brought on as a sub by starting a fist fight with spectators. He then saved the day by telling the club owner that the fan had been insulting the owner’s honour and Kaiser felt compelled to defend his good name.
At times the book deviates from the main story to discuss Brazilian football more generally – partly to fill out the book, partly because the 80’s is one of the most interesting periods of Brazilian football history with some of their greatest ever players yet no World Cup wins. I think the book is better for giving the wider picture and setting Kaiser’s story in the broader context of Brazil at the time.
Overall, it’s a book that any football fan will enjoy. Part biography, part football history, part Catch Me If You Can style fantastical tale, Kaiser is an entertaining and brilliant read.
The book has been published in conjunction with a documentary which I’m yet to see but hoping to watch soon.