The Burleanu Burlesque

By James Dostoyevsky

As if football didn’t have other problems – between a Turkish club president assaulting a referee on the pitch and VAR turning into the most hated new tech distorting football results – a novel and stupefying proclamation emanated from Vlad the Impaler’s homeland, Romania this week.

The news was reported in an English rag, further confirming that Bram Stoker was not the only Englishman who was in love with Transylvania.

There, in the far-away and scary hills adorned by Bran Castle (some call it Dracula’s Castle, which, too, is an English invention), the goodly (he thinks Godly) head of the Romanian Football Federation, a not-so-smooth operator called Razvan Burleanu, declared this week that he is ready, willing and able to challenge UEFA’s President, Aleksander Ceferin in 2027. Although nobody had asked…

Apparently the lover of Burlesque (must be, at this rate…) is not an aficionado of Sun Tzu, who wrote in ‘The Art of War’, that “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.Looks like young Burleanu has knowledge of neither, particularly since his ‘strategy’, if there was one, has all the characteristics of ‘ejaculatio praecox’ translated into a power-grab – not a satisfying proposition in either context.

Burleanu declared himself the future President of European Football (why? who wanted to know?), assuming that he’d automatically get the vote of 55 European Confederation Members in case Ceferin cannot/does not run again in 2027. What he apparently didn’t check first, is whether Ceferin would even think of running for a third term in 2027 (some claim it would be the fourth but it wouldn’t…).

Ceferin’s first term was factually only half a term, after Platini had been banned. The present UEFA President was re-elected unopposed in 2019 and again earlier this year at the UEFA Congress in Lisbon. If the first term is counted as a full term (which it wasn’t) and the proposed amendment of the Statutes submitted by UEFA’s Legal Committee are not accepted by the UEFA Congress next year, the question whether or not Ceferin would run again, is moot to begin with.

But Burleanu must have listened a tad too closely to his omnipresent adviser, one Vasile Dâncu, an opinion pollster,leading PSD member (presently the governing party) and – some Romanian media claim – a close associate of the Romanian Intelligence Service. Today’s successors of the hated Gestapo-like organization, Ceausescu’s Securitate, have serious reputational issues. And to be put in their vicinity is hardly an asset – although they seem to call the shots in many political and criminal scandals.

There are claims, in Romania, that Burleanu’s meteoric rise in football and politics – he got his referee license at the mature age of 19 – is a little suspicious. Yet, he runs Romanian football, and the men’s team hasn’t won anything under his reign. Maybe he should have remained married to his first love, mini-football (whatever that is), which gave him the platform to step up to the big league and eventually head the Federation with the help of some astute manipulation. “No! By merit,” he will claim.

Young Burleanu, properly attired with secret service advice (Dancu severally claimed that he has no such links at all, of course), felt that using the Lord of Siberia’s, Lebedev’s, rag for his purpose, namely (what used to be) The Independent in London, to announce how ready and willing he was to step into shoes that won’t fit (a bit like OJ’s gloves that didn’t either) was an astute move. But no matter how hard he tries to manipulate European football’s Members (some of who can think, as opposed to those who are fed government propaganda for breakfast, lunch and dinner), he is everything but a “papabile”.

It takes more to run UEFA than a rather “special” career in Romanian football (the senior men’s team, once a force to be reckoned with, has been dismal, often abysmal since he took power).

Jumping the gun by pompously declaring preparedness and ability, and mistaking one’s own wishful thinking for fact, is an uncouth approach. I understand that power can be an aphrodisiac. But to try and gain power by all means, is atoxic cocktail at best. Even if money does attract lots of fools – Romanian media reports show that Burleanu didn’t have a penny to his name in 2008, only to have homes and well-filled bank accounts after 8 years of football presidency – money tends to attract the wrong people. And football is full of those.

After 2015, fans and observers thought that cleaning out FIFA’s Augean Stables would have had an effect on football as a whole. It didn’t. Not in Romania, anyway. When Newsweek Romania requested to see the books from 2014-2022 (Burleanu’s reign), this was the answer:

“According to your request, we inform you that the Romanian Football Federation is not subject to public authorities or institutions regulations as defined in art. 2. Lit. 1 of law 544/2001 (regarding free access to information of public interest) and, as a consequence, the provisions of that law are not applicable to the FRF,” claimed the FRF’s communication office in a response to Newsweek Romania. From June 1, 2022.

And there I was, naively believing that transparency was a thing, particularly for anyone wanting to run the richest and most powerful confederation in world football.

What Burleanu appears to be criticizing in UEFA’s proposed statute changes – which follow due process by the book – and loudly so, is not a smart move. Why?

Because the FRF statutes, those of the very Federation he runs, [I quote Newsweek Romania] “were changed overnight, and on the fly. Asked how the statute was changed, Răzvan Burleanu said: ‘The affiliated members wanted this, and that means we are a united team.’ Burleanu says: ‘If the affiliated members want something else, we will have to talk about a new mandate, if that is a solution’. Once again the FRF boss neglects to say that all these affiliated members are in fact “new affiliates”, who are “affiliated” only to him, from women’s football, from mini football, from the lower leagues and from other micro-football entities happy to support him’.”

Therefore, and instead of aligning with some sort of twisted ‘vendetta journalism’, Burleanu should finally pick up Sun Tzu, who suggests: “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” Apparently well versed in some very dark Romanian arts, the wannabe UEFA president forgot that timing is essential, but track record is a sine qua non.

James Dostoyevsky was a Washington-based author until the end of 2018, where he reported on sports politics and socio-cultural topics. He returned to Europe in 2019 and continues to follow football politics – presently with an emphasis on the Middle East, Europe and Africa.