By Ian Walker
VANCOUVER — There are few moments in the 35-year history of the Vancouver Whitecaps that compare with Tuesday’s hiring of Paul Barber as the team’s new chief executive officer.
While one only has to go back to March — when the Whitecaps were granted Major Soccer League status — for such a momentous occasion, outside that there’s really only the Soccer Bowl in 1979 and the club’s formation on Dec. 11, 1973, that live on as memories that stand the test of time.
But Barber’s hiring is bigger than just the Whitecaps. The front-office coup is making headlines the world over.
Barber, 42, is the executive director of Tottenham Hotspur, an English Premier team rife with history and on par with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool.
And it’s not like the chap was sweeping floors in White Hart Lane, either.
Barber has been responsible for all of Tottenham’s key operational divisions since taking over the job in 2005, including commercial area, ticketing and hospitality, international tours and the club’s soccer development.
In case you’re still not impressed, Forbes listed the 127-year-old north London franchise as the 11th-most valuable soccer team on Earth last year at $445 million US, with an annual revenue of $245 million.
Sort of makes the $35 million Greg Kerfoot and company put up to buy an MLS expansion team look sort of piddly.
“Just a little bit of news — I call him our designated executive,” said Whitecaps’ co-owner Jeff Mallett, the former chief operating officer for Yahoo and an icon of the Internet technology boom. “Much like David Beckham is a designated player, it’s the same impact we’re going to see on the business side of the equation.”
Mallet and fellow Whitecaps’ co-owner Steve Nash were first introduced to Barber while inquiring about purchasing stakes in Tottenham three years ago.
The three have kept close ties, becoming friends first and now business associates.
“We never bought the Spurs, but maybe this is the best thing to come out of it,” said Mallett.
“I know what you’re asking, and it’s a fair question. ‘Why would someone currently leading a top-12 team in the world give it all up to work for a fledgling club in North America?’ First and foremost, Paul is a soccer fanatic. Secondly, Paul is an entrepreneur and a businessman at heart. The opportunities and challenges ahead inspired him to want to make his mark. And thirdly, his knowledge of Steve and myself offered him that comfort level that the backing is legit.”
Barber, who will take over the position in March, was unavailable for comment. The announcement was posted on Tottenham’s website shortly after the news was made public.
Bob Lenarduzzi — the longtime face of the club as a former player, coach and currently as team president — doesn’t see his role changing, though he can now focus more on the soccer side of the business.
“It’s massive and demonstrates the club is prepared to do what it needs to do to have success,” said Lenarduzzi. “For me, it’s the ability to work with a guy and for a guy who has a skill set that we’re lacking. He’s been part of building a new stadium, overseen plans for a new training ground and is doing a lot on the commercial side of things that apply here. It’s a great opportunity for me.”
Mallet said a quick search on Yahoo — not Google, he insisted — showed the hiring is being noticed across the pond.
“It’s making a big impact on the message boards and with the news agencies and is having a ripple effect in the UK and all over Europe,” said Mallett, a co-owner of English Championship soccer side Derby County.
“My e-mail box is full with executives at other European clubs saying, ‘I can’t believe this is happening’. It marks a fundamental shift in the landscape of North American soccer.
“It’s a big coup.”
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