Fan-favourite Haber gets transfer to join West Brom - The Province


Promising forward excited to chase development opportunity with English Championship side

By Marc Weber

Of the thousands of passengers stuck at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday, Marcus Haber was surely among the cheeriest.

Severe winter weather can hamper travel plans, but it's tough to put a damper on chasing a dream.

Haber, the promising Vancouver-raised forward who turns 21 next week, left for England on Tuesday night to begin his second stint in Europe.

The Whitecaps officially announced on Wednesday his transfer to Championship side West Bromwich Albion, a team located in the West Midlands, for an undisclosed fee.

Haber had impressed Baggies coach Roberto Di Matteo on a four-day trial in late November and the clubs began to negotiate a move for the speedy, 6-foot-3 striker.

"He was hugely excited when he left -- for his development, he felt he needed to give this a try," said Haber's dad and agent, David, who as of Wednesday afternoon wasn't sure if his son was still waiting to land, waiting in a customs line or waiting for luggage.

"My sense is that he's going to a very good place -- a club that develops young players, where he'll get an opportunity to play."

Haber had that in Vancouver, too. After returning home last season following a two-year youth career with Dutch Eredivisie side FC Groenigen, he appeared in every league game and earned USL-1 rookie of the year honours as well as the club's fan favourite award.

He would have been part of the Whitecaps' Major League Soccer plans when the club jumps to North America's premier loop in 2011. He still could be. Haber's on an 18-month contract with West Brom.

But the Whitecaps can't compete with European salaries, nor the prospect of playing on soccer's grandest club stage.

The Baggies are currently second in the Championship, in position for promotion to the English Premier League.

"It's a great opportunity for him," Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi acknowledged. "We're disappointed he won't be with us next season, but we've got young forwards coming through the system that will have more opportunity as a result of Marcus moving on."

Those would be Edmonton's Randy Edwini-Bonsu and Jamaica's Dever Orgill, both residency players who will complement veteran Marlon James up front.

Haber's move also brings the Whitecaps a significant sum. Based on recent Championship transfers of unproven young talent in money-mad Europe, the payment could well have been in the $400,000 to $500,000 range.

Four previous Whitecaps have played for the Baggies, either before or after their stint in Vancouver. Carl Valentine won a North American Soccer League title here before heading to West Brom in 1984 when they were a First Division side (equivalent to the current Premier League).

"Just living in that environment, it's pretty special with so many big clubs in the Midlands area," Valentine said. "What I've seen of Marcus, I think he's going to thrive in that environment. He's a confident player, he likes taking players on, likes the ball. Those are great traits. And he's an athlete."

There is one downside to the move for Haber. He was called up for Canada's away friendly against Jamaica at month's end, but almost certainly will miss that training camp and potential senior debut.

mweber@theprovince.com
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