During one of his first visits to Vancouver, Paul Barber, newly minted CEO of Whitecaps FC, asked his driver to pull to the side of the road so that he could watch people playing soccer.

“There were so many kids playing,” said Barber, during a press conference in Vancouver yesterday.

“So many coaches enjoying what they were doing. The passion for the game was there for me to see. It was one of the things that helped convince me that this would be a great move.”

‘Caps president Bob Lenarduzzi called the hiring a “momentous” occasion.

He said it was the management equivalent of MLS’ designated player rule, where a team can bring in a star player, like a David Beckham, with only a minor hit to their salary cap.

Barber, 42, was the executive director of Tottenham Hotspur FC, the English Premiership team that he had grew up watching in North London.

Last year, Forbes.com listed the team as the 11th most valuable soccer franchise in the world.

He comes to a Whitecaps club on the cusp of jumping to Major League Soccer, the highest level of soccer in North America.

“It’s not just a big step up on the field, it’s a big step up off the field,” said Barber, who remains on Tottenham’s board of directors.

“We’ve got to give the team the best possible opportunity to succeed on the pitch.”

Among the tasks ahead of him will be to relocate the club from its home at Swangard Stadium to Empire Bowl and then to a renovated B.C. Place.

High on his priority list, he added, will be the creation of a state-of-the-art training facility.

In January, Delta council scrapped the Whitecaps’ plans for a $31-million national soccer development centre.

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