There is a story that crops up every few years about the tale of a Brazilian footballer named Carlos Kaiser.
Kaiser, nicknamed because his resemblance in style to Franz Beckenbauer, was a product of the Brazilian football system in the late seventies that had been inspired by the great Brazil team at the beginning of the decade.
A contemporary of greats like Carlos Alberto and Renato Gaucho, Kaiser lined up for many of the continents illustrious clubs. He first played professionally at Puebla in Mexico, before taking in spells at Botafogo, Fluminense, Vasco de Gama, Flamengo.
His career ran from 1979 to the early nineties when his lustre began to fade, having amassed a long list of clubs that had paid for his services. However, his career is notable for one key thing: he was a complete conman. Kaiser never made an appearance for any of these clubs. The “farce footballer” as he was known used friends in high places, a false representation his of playing ability (before the advent of social media) and carefully constructed “injuries” to keep the con going for over a decade.
Carlos Kaiser stole a living as a footballer. He pulled the wool over people’s eyes for the best part of a decade.
It’s hard not to be reminded of Kaiser’s story when every transfer window comes around. Fuelled by clubs’ desperation to buy players, any players, fans are frenzied into 24/7 monitoring of suspect “ITK” Twitter accounts to seek assurance. Many clubs put themselves in a position where facing mounting pressure, they put their trust in the words of agents and the supposed abilities of their clients.
While Kaiser’s story should be hard to replicate in the modern era, it‘s not unfathomable that many modern players are expert wool coverers. Or indeed that many players aren’t playing at a level far beyond their abilities.
How can you identify a footballer stealing a living? Well, there are many theories and formulas that might help.
1) The player who had one good spell at a high level early in their careers
This may be perhaps the most common form of tomfoolery favoured by living stealers. Think Frazier Campbell, Saido Berahino, Francis Jeffers, Marcus Bent etc. Players who in the early stages of their career carved out performances that caught the wider public eye, and were heralded with great promise.
I’m sure there is a huge exhaustive list that could be made on this category. A staple of it is clubs continuously taking a chance on this type of player, despite every discernible statistic telling them to steer clear. Each club desperate for a solution to solve the problem of their devoid imagination.
Frazier Campbell got in the England squad when he was a Sunderland player, which ignored the fact that Frazier Campbell scored six goals in his time at the Stadium of Light. He has since gone from club to club, without ever really threatening to become the goalscorer that each club hopes he will be. Berahino, although early in his career and not without caveats, is showing early symptoms of following the same pattern. How many clubs will fork out huge sums of cash before the penny drops?
Campbell and Jeffers nod to another area guilty of putting Living Stealers on the production line….
2) Players who played a handful of games as a youth at a “Big Club”
How often do you see it? Academy prospects at the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City forging a career for themselves largely based on the club they started at rather than their playing ability. It’s not just English clubs either. There seems to be almost a premium attached to the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona cast offs as well, which is amazing when you begin to look at the realities of some of these players’ “abilities”. (We’re looking at you Antonio Nunez!)
Perhaps King of the Living Stealers in this fashion, however, is Nicklas Bendtner. He, like Frazier Campbell, falls into the bracket of both Categories 1 and 2 and personifies so much of what captures the imagination of this brand of footballer.
Ability and huge potential? Check.
Eye catching performances as a teenager? Check.
Big club pedigree? Check.
Now, despite the anomaly of his exceptional international goal tally for Denmark, Bendtner has repeatedly hoodwinked clubs like Arsenal, Sunderland, JUVENTUS, Wolfsburg and Nottingham Forest into falling for his own shtick that he is the greatest striker to walk the earth. Now in Norway at a level more befitting of his abilities, he is something for us all to aspire to. There is hope for all of us yet to carve a short spell of footballing success for ourselves if Nicklas Bendtner can end up at Juventus.
The connotations associated with Bendtner’s international form are no coincidence. For as we all know, international football itself is the greatest propaganda machine on earth for peddling supposed qualities in bang-average players…
3) Players who perform well at a major tournament for an unlikely underdog
There’s nothing quite like a major tournament to get agents excited. It presents them with an opportunity to know that if their player puts in even one great performance they’re in the money. The price may double and clubs that before the tournament didn’t know he existed suddenly are courting him to within an inch of his life.
I’m reminded of Senegal in 2002, and a player worthy of any list that involves stealing a living in El Hadji Diouf.
Diouf came to Liverpool following Sengal’s remarkable performance in a World Cup that saw them advance to a quarter final at the expense of the all-conquering and reigning European and World Champions France.
Central to that was Diouf’s incisive attacking play but despite his exploits, became a figure of ridicule at most clubs he turned out for. Eventually cast off by Liverpool, Diouf graced Bolton Wanderers, Blackburn Rovers, Sunderland, Rangers, Doncaster Rovers and Leeds United with his presence, but not much else (although I’m sure Bolton fans would argue he was a success there). Diouf forged a ten year Premier League career for himself on the back of a World Cup. Salif Diao was another from Senegal side who spent an unremarkable decade moving between clubs in England whilst lining his pockets with silver.
The above barely begins to scratch the surface the true extent of how much money is fraudulently being extracted from football clubs by con artists. I’m sure there could also be a category filed under “Nepotism” whereby players with the right name manage to make it in the game.
Jordi Cryuff famously ended up at United, while Jonathan Benteke was successful in playing a Premier League game for Palace just a couple of months after being released by Belgian minnows Zulte Waregem with a record of no goals in seventeen matches the season before. We don’t even know where to begin with George Weah’s cousin…
The Kaiser’s place in this story is important. While that was an era where word of mouth was gospel and these swindles were easily achievable, don’t be fooled into thinking your club won’t fall foul of the desperation that can lead to these tumultuous arrivals. After all, with Ali Dia about to be inducted into Southampton’s Hall of Fame, some might suggest that we are in denial about this phenomenon
So remember kids, as you tag your chairman on Twitter and shout obscenities at the board of your football club (who are absolutely not listening to you), please be vigilant. Ashley Barnes is lining himself up for a remarkable move to Chelsea and Micah Richards remains an Aston Villa player. Know the power of your words. Look out for the warning signs and early symptoms. It could be YOUR club. It could be YOUR player.
I think it was Cheryl Cole who once famously said, “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.
Certainly food for thought…