The Con Artist Who Managed a 13 Year Career as a Professional Football Player Despite Sucking at Football

The game of soccer (henceforth referred to as football to satisfy my English sensibilities, though to be fair, it was the English who originally named the sport Soccer in its earliest days under somewhat codified rules and only abandoned that original moniker about a half century ago in favor of the more generic “Football”) is full of players who have achieved almost legendary status for their ability to run around for a long time and occasionally kick a ball in the general direction they want it to go- all in hopes that their team gets said ball into a certain space more than the other team or, at least, the same number of times as the other team because who doesn’t love ties? Just helps us all more fully internalize the pointlessness of everything in life given we are all going to die, our very substance turned into microbial poop, and ultimately everything we ever did completely forgotten, even the fact that we existed at all…

Perhaps the most legendary of all of these sports stars is the Brazilian striker Carlos Henrique Raposo, if only because he managed to collect a salary playing for various professional football clubs for about 13 seasons from 1979-1992 despite not actually being very good at the sport and managing in just about every way he could think of to ensure that nobody ever figured this out.

Before we talk about that though, a disclaimer. While Raposo’s rather interesting career has since been documented in both film and books, hard contemporary evidence of his exploits are difficult to come by and it’s clear over the years his story has been embellished to an extent. Nonetheless, we have endeavored to tell you the most accurate possible version of his story to the point that our author even went as far as enlisting the help of a Spanish friend to read through every contemporary Spanish language source we could find that inevitably cropped up, to try to separate fact from embellishment. With that out of the way, let’s tell you the story of Carlos Raposo’s rather interesting career.

Born in 1963 in Brazil, as a youth, like many of his peers, Raposo harboured dreams of being a famous football star. The only problem was that he possessed relatively little skill for the sport compared to actual professionals. What Raposo did have though was the athletic build of a footballer, an incredibly charming personality, a host of high-profile friends who were more than happy to do him favors (even ones who knew he was full of crap), and a moral flexibility that ensured he could maximally take advantage of all of these things to become a football star despite not being very good at football. Individuals whom it is often claimed are friends of Raposo include Edmundo Alves de Souza Neto and Romário de Souza Faria, the latter of which is consistently ranked as one of the greatest players of all time.

Raposo’s alleged modus operandi at the beginning of his career was to call one of his more talented friends when they signed with a new club and simply ask for a trial with the club, which they were usually more than happy to put in a good word. During his interview, Raposo would formally request time to get fit before attending a proper training session, at which point he’d use his very made up reputation combined with his formidable physical prowess to make an impression on the club’s coach, via things like demonstrating his prodigious running ability and ability to lift heavy weights, while carefully avoiding actually needing to show off his relative lack of ability playing the sport. While you might think the coaches must have been morons, we should again stress that seemingly in all cases, he brought with him a backlog of former greatness with other clubs, including at times very real press clippings, despite, you know, that being made up.

After being signed, as soon as he attended a “proper” training session where he was expected to actually play and show off his actual football skills, Raposo would do things like feign a crippling injury via things like kicking a ball as hard as he could and then falling to the ground clutching his hamstring – a common injury for footballers. A tactic that worked surprisingly well both thanks to at times him being able to get unscrupulous doctors on his side, and also simple lack of medical technology. To quote Raposo himself about this unorthodox method of making the cut: “There were no MRI scanners in those days, so they had to believe me.”

Once he was declared injured, Raposo could safely wait out the rest of his trial period without worrying about playing and still collect a paycheck. To keep his teammates on his side, Raposo would allegedly arrive at hotels his team were due to stay in a few days earlier specifically to fill them with local women to “entertain” his friends in-between matches, in the process netting him yet more contacts who’d be willing to sing his praises when he inevitably applied to another club. Raposo would also occasionally talk on the phone in perfect English, telling friends that he was in talks with clubs in Europe that were interested in signing him to help convince managers into either extending his contract or raising his wages.

When his time with a given team came to an end, Raposo would simply repeat this formula with another club and, according to him, it worked, with the Brazen Brazilian claiming to have played for a host of well-known Brazilian clubs during his career including Vasco da Gama, Botafogo and Flamengo as well as having brief stints in France, Mexico, America and Argentina. Raposo was able to score these lucrative gigs thanks to a combination of his contacts and eventually showing he had previously played for other clubs and just sort of embellishing his exploits there. In short, developing a carefully crafted reputation, including using the media to help further all this. Sometimes it seems via journalists just trusting what he said about himself, others seemingly journalists who were happy to scratch his back if he scratched theirs.

For example, Raposo saw to it that coverage in his native Brazil while he was playing there always flanked his name by words like “gunner” and “scorer”, adjectives cherry-picked from quotes by legends of the sport whom he called his friends. We should point out here that because he, you know, rarely actually played and wasn’t that good relatively to his peers, he never actually scored any goals. Nevertheless, with such high praise coming from such well-regarded figures in the sport, clubs looking to sign Raposo seldom had a reason to doubt his claims that he was anything but a brilliant, tactically-minded striker capable of scoring goals with surgical precision, despite having a bit of a major injury problem.

Sometime during his career, Raposo also adopted the nickname “The Kaiser” as a nod to legendary German player Franz Beckenbauer, who was known by the same moniker due to his “dominance” and “leadership” while playing. If it wasn’t clear from the rest of this piece, Raposo gave this nickname to himself to try to help convince various clubs to sign him.

Although Raposo usually avoided stepping on the field like it was coated in landmines, there do appear to have been occasions in which he wasn’t able to avoid doing so and as a result, he does appear to have a legitimate traceable football record, albeit a very hazy one that’s mostly in Spanish and French. For example, Raposo is said to have played a single game with the Brazilian team, Bangu, and there’s a purported newspaper headline from the time he was signed that roughly translates to “The Bangu already has its king, Carlos Kaiser”. According to one source, Raposo was able to avoid playing in his first game with the team when he was brought on to substitute for another player by intentionally getting into a verbal argument with the fans from the sidelines, thus getting the referee to send him back to the locker room before he stepped onto the pitch and blew his cover. Raposo was somehow able to spin this into goodwill with the club’s president by saying he only got in an altercation with the fan because they’d called the president a thief. In the end, he was awarded a 6 month contract extension with that club.

Later in his career, Raposo moved to France and signed with a division two team called Gazelec Ajaccio where he made sporadic appearances, mostly limited to kicking the ball up the field and showboating for the crowd, who were more interested in the novelty of having a supposed Brazilian legend on their team than his actual performance. Further, in a training session with Ajaccio, Raposo was able to avoid playing entirely by simply walking onto the pitch and kicking all of the balls they had available into the crowd while warming up. His team, thinking he was playing to the crowd – which was quite large and filled with people eager to see their teams new Brazilian superstar perform- allowed him to do this, not realising Raposo had kicked literally every ball they had lying around. When the time came to start for real, with no ball, his lack of skills on this front was concealed and they simply enjoyed watching him show off his more natural physical skills in the training session.

As Raposo played in a time before our modern extensive online stat tracking websites and ubiquitous sports coverage, we have no way of knowing what his career record was, though most sources say that he played in around 30 games during the course of his career, the majority of which were with the aforementioned French team, with whom Raposo claims to have played “20 minutes per game, a few times per season”, although it should be noted here that one of his fellow footballers claims that actually never happened and the pictures of such were simply staged to convince other teams he had played. Whatever the case there, everybody seems in agreement that Raposo never scored a single goal, an impressive feat when you consider that he was a striker, which for non-football fans means his entire job on the pitch was more or less to score goals.

Raposo retired from the sport at age 39 and remained amazingly unrepentant about his deception, openly admitting in interviews with the Brazilian and French press that he “regretted nothing” about what he did because the clubs he played for treated their actual players so poorly, being quoted as saying: “Clubs already deceived so many players, someone had to be the avenger of the guys.”

Today, Raposo makes ends meet as a personal trainer and occasionally gives interviews about his rather colorful “career”, and even has had a book and a movie made about his exploits as a professional footballer who wasn’t actually very good at football.

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