Barber on the ball with Caps - The Province

Top dog with 4th-place Spurs on his way to West Coast

By Marc Weber

Vancouver Whitecaps fans salivate at the possibilities presented by Steve Nash's stable of global soccer-star friends.

When Major League Soccer arrives here in 2011, the theory goes, Nash -- the all-world NBA player and Whitecaps co-owner -- will deliver an aging European stud to serve as the team's designated player, one whose contract doesn't count against the salary cap, such as David Beckham in L.A.

But it turns out Nash's first major contribution wasn't a DP after all. It was a DE.

"This is like a designated executive for us," Whitecaps co-owner Jeff Mallett said Tuesday after the club announced that Tottenham Hotspur executive director Paul Barber will become the Vancouver CEO next March.

"We've cast a pretty big vision for the club and we need some folks who have been there on this scale. For us to bring in Paul, someone sitting in the big chair in the English Premier League ... it's fantastic. Huge credit to Steve Nash."

It was three years ago that Nash, a lifelong Spurs fan, and Mallett were looking to invest in Tottenham, a club with 127 years of history that Forbes.com recently listed as the 11th-most-valuable soccer team at $445 million US.

A friendship with Barber formed after that initial meeting, and Mallett -- who sits on the board of English Championship struggler Derby County -- said talks became serious at a recent conference.

Mallett painted a picture of a driven businessman with a wealth of international contacts and community vision.

But Barber is not joining the ownership group that also includes Greg Kerfoot and Steve Luczo.

"He enjoys building and he likes to win," Mallett said of Barber. "His connections, starting with players like Beckham and Rio Ferdinand and extending to coaches and executives across the world, are unbelievable. It's not just about the first team at Spurs. He's a coach at a youth club, he just loves the game."

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi, who'll be working closely with Barber on the technical side, called it "a massive day."

Barber's resumé reads like a perfect match when looking at the challenges facing the Whitecaps as they take their first steps into MLS.

There will be tough negotiations with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment -- Toronto FC owners --MLS and likely the Montreal Impact when it comes to sponsorship and television rights in Canada. MLSE, for example, owns GolTV.

Barber, a 42-year-old north Londoner, was the commercial and marketing director of the English FA before joining Spurs. He negotiated broadcast rights for the national team and the FA Cup.

There's a major sponsor to secure and countless opportunities around B.C. Place Stadium, which is getting a $460- million retractable roof upgrade.

Barber, on the front lines of Spurs' new stadium development, spoke of "the significant opportunity that Major League Soccer represents."

Lenarduzzi wouldn't discuss Barber's potential impact on waterfront stadium negotiations, but did say the CEO will be involved in the B.C. Place setup -- as well as the near-$40-million training facility in Delta.

Barber shoptalk

- Home town: London.

- Age: 42.

- Past jobs: Commercial and marketing director for Football Association of England; member of retail board, Barclays Bank; CEO of Europe, Middle East and Africa communications for marketing giant Ogilvy & Mather.

- Other: Member of the London host-city group trying to stage a World Cup in 2018 or 2022; U16 coach; former amateur player.
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