Atlanta United’s Darren Eales leaving to join Newcastle United

Atlanta United celebrates the beginning of their 5th season where United President Darren Eales speaks before the unveiling the 2021 team uniforms Friday, Feb 26, 2021 during a drive-in at the Home Depot Backyard.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Atlanta United celebrates the beginning of their 5th season where United President Darren Eales speaks before the unveiling the 2021 team uniforms Friday, Feb 26, 2021 during a drive-in at the Home Depot Backyard. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Atlanta United President Darren Eales accepted a job as CEO of Newcastle United in England’s Premier League. His last day with the Five Stripes will be Aug. 8.

Eales was Atlanta United’s first president, joining the MLS expansion club in 2014 after his experiences with West Bromwich Albion and Tottenham Hotspur in England.

Eales, 49, was tasked by Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank with building a franchise from the ground up, including its culture, name, crest, training facility, style of play and academy. Under Eales’ stewardship, the team played an attractive style of the soccer that was the envy of the league. It won the MLS Cup in 2018 in its second season and the U.S. Open Cup and Campeones Cup in 2019. It also became one of the first clubs in the league to successfully develop a South American talent, Miguel Almiron, and sell that player for a profit to a club in Europe, in that case, Newcastle for more than $25 million, and another, Pity Martinez, to a club in Saudi Arabia for more than $15 million.

“It has been the adventure and honor of a lifetime to help build Atlanta United,” Eales said in a statement provided by the team. “I will always be grateful to Arthur Blank, both for giving me the initial opportunity, and for providing unparalleled support and leadership throughout the journey. I have been privileged to work with an amazing team of people who rolled up their sleeves and made a vision into reality. And I have loved being a part of this vibrant city, with its brilliant, passionate supporters. Thank you, Atlanta, and thank you 17s.”

Eales can’t grant interviews until he starts at Newcastle on Aug. 22. Steve Cannon, CEO of AMB Sports and Entertainment, said in a statement from the club that a global search for Eales’ replacement has begun. Cannon will serve as interim president.

Eales kept everything very much under wraps, which has been his method while at the club. Most people within the franchise didn’t know he was leaving until noon Friday. For most of the past few seasons, there rarely was leaked news that came from within the franchise. That’s how Eales preferred to operate.

Blank was effusive in his praise for the job done by Eales. Atlanta United has led the league in attendance every season and has set most single-game attendance records.

“Darren Eales is one of the best hires I’ve made in my career and the strength and success of Atlanta United to date is a credit to him not only as a leader, but as a passionate footballer,” Blank said in a statement provided by the club. “I’m thrilled for Darren to have this new opportunity to lead Newcastle and I see it as a very positive reflection of Atlanta United and what our club has achieved in such a short time. Darren is more than ready to lead Newcastle and I know he’ll be an outstanding leader of that club. He leaves with my deepest respect, admiration and very best wishes for him, Faith (Eales’ wife) and their two beautiful sons.”

Eales, who played college soccer for West Virginia and Brown, approached the job with a mix of mirth and seriousness. He went on grass-roots tours of bars in the city to talk to potential team supporters in the years before the club launched. He frequently has engaged with supporters on social media, one of the few MLS club presidents to do so. He has made fun of himself with sketches about a new team mascot, Trainy McTrainface, and also has been sentimental, such as the photo of him asleep and holding the MLS Cup.

Eales and the success of the franchise are in part responsible for the city’s selection as one of the hosts for the 2026 World Cup.

Eales’ time at Atlanta United will end with the club fighting for a playoff spot in the MLS Eastern Conference. The team hasn’t been able to replicate the success it enjoyed from 2017-19, when it arguably had the greatest start for an expansion club in league history. It has gone through several managers since first hiring Gerardo Martino in an attempt to duplicate a success that included an average of 18 wins and 66 goals scored. After the COVID-shortened season in 2020, in which the club failed to make the playoffs for the first time, it won only 13 games with 45 goals scored in 2021. Despite a payroll that is the highest in MLS, Atlanta United is on pace to win 10 games with 50 goals scored this season, possibly because the roster has been affected by 20 different injuries that have robbed players of multiple games.

Eales, known for his cryptic tweets ahead of team news, will join a Newcastle franchise that has some of the more passionate supporters in England, but who haven’t had much to cheer about it in recent seasons. The team, founded in 1892, has won the league four times, most recently in 1926-27, and finished as runners-up twice, most recently in 1997. It has won the FA Cup six times, most recently in 1955.

The Magpies, also known for their iconic black-and-white striped primary kits, were bought last year by a group from Saudi Arabia, providing it with riches on par with rivals Manchester City. It finished 11th in the Premier League last season. It is managed by Eddie Howe, who saved the club from relegation after it failed to win any of its first 14 games.

“Newcastle United is both a giant of a club, and the heartbeat of its community,” Eales said in a statement provided by Newcastle. “Every time I have visited St. James’ Park, I’ve been overwhelmed by the passion of the fans. This is a club with an amazingly rich heritage, and I am delighted to be joining for this new chapter in its long history. I am grateful for the opportunity, and look forward to working with the rest of the team to help this storied club fulfil its potential.”

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Atlanta United’s 2022 MLS schedule

Feb. 27 Atlanta United 3, Sporting KC 1

March 5 Colorado 3, Atlanta United 0

March 13 Atlanta United 2, Charlotte 1

March 19 Atlanta United 3, Montreal 3

April 2 Atlanta United 1, D.C. United 0

April 10 Charlotte 1, Atlanta United 0

April 16 Atlanta United 0, Cincinnati 0

April 24 Miami 2, Atlanta United 1

April 30 Montreal 2, Atlanta United 1

May 7 Atlanta United 4, Chicago 1

May 15 Atlanta United 2, New England 2

May 21 Atlanta United 2, Nashville 2

May 28 Columbus 2, Atlanta United 1

June 19 Atlanta United 2, Miami 0

June 25 Toronto 2, Atlanta United 1

June 30 New York Red Bulls 2, Atlanta United 1

July 3 Atlanta United 2, NYCFC 2

July 9 Austin 3, Atlanta United 0

July 13 Atlanta United 2, Real Salt Lake 1

July 17 vs. Orlando, 3 p.m., ABC

July 24 at L.A. Galaxy, 9:30 p.m., FS1

July 30 at Chicago, 5 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 6 vs. Seattle, 3 p.m., ABC

August 13 at Cincinnati, 7:30 p.m. BSSO/BSSE

August 17 vs. New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

August 21 at Columbus, 5:30 p.m., FS1

August 28 vs. D.C. United, 4 p.m., UNIV

August 31 at Philadelphia, 7 p.m., FS1

Sept. 4 at Portland, 5:30 p.m., FOX

Sept. 10 vs. Toronto, 7:30 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept. 14 at Orlando, 6 p.m., BSSO/BSSE

Sept 17 vs. Philadelphia, 3:30 p.m., UniMas

Oct. 1 at New England, 1 p.m., UniMas