Atlanta’s MLS team hires Darren Eales as president

Darren Eales may have an official at a rival club to thank for his hiring as the president of Atlanta’s MLS club.

Eales, 42, was announced as the new leader of Atlanta’s MLS club Wednesday after serving as the director of football administration at Tottenham Hotspur of the English Premier League since 2010.

When Jim Smith, a member of Atlanta owner Arthur Blank’s search team, was vetting candidates, he called Ivan Gazidis at Arsenal, a longtime rival of Spurs in north London. Gazidis was a perfect sounding board because he is formerly deputy commissioner of MLS.

“He told me Darren would be an excellent hire and would work very well with MLS,” Smith said. “He doesn’t hand out compliments easily.”

League officials at MLS, who have dealt with Eales on the transfer of several players both to and from Spurs, also sang his praises.

“His reputation was good and after meeting him I understand why,” Smith said. “He has a great way about him, and I think he will be a perfect fit for Atlanta.”

Eales’ start date with the expansion club hasn’t been decided. The team will begin play in 2017 in Blank’s new billion-dollar stadium downtown. In a sign of expectations and interest, more than 14,000 season tickets have been pledged to be purchased by members of the team’s Founder’s Club.

The hiring ends a search that started soon after Atlanta’s MLS club was introduced by Blank and league commissioner Don Garber in April. Neither Blank nor Eales could be reached for comment, but were quoted in a release provided by the team.

“Soccer is a lifetime passion of mine, and to have the chance to come to Atlanta and build a club from the ground up is extremely exciting,” Eales said. “I’m going to have the rare experience of getting to know the fans from the outset, and I’m eager to engage them in the process, from naming the team to creating an incredible atmosphere at our matches.”

Eales twice met with different members of the Falcons and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation in Flowery Branch, as well as with members of the search firm Korn Ferry during the interview process.

Eales was one of three finalists. Smith said they were blown away by the interest in the position.

“We have an owner, a market and a venue truly like no other,” Smith said. “It grabbed a lot of people’s attention. We were amazed at how many great soccer executives in the country and the world that want be a part of MLS.”

Eales impressed them for several reasons:

  • His knowledge of MLS and how it operates. Its single-entity structure is different than most other leagues. Eales not only had also already done research on team executives within the league, but also on its players.
  • He understands youth development and its importance because of the importance that Spurs places on their academy. MLS requires teams to have academies.
  • His collaborative leadership style and philosophy.
  • His knowledge of how to use technology and databases in player scouting and analysis.

A native of Cambridge, England, Eales played in college at West Virginia and then at Brown, where he was a first-team All-American as a forward and graduated with a degree in economics.

He played professionally in the United States with the Hampton Roads Mariners, Hershey Wildcats and New York Centaurs.

Eales returned to England where he studied law at Cambridge. He joined the bar in 2000.

He served in a variety of roles for West Bromwich Albion soccer club before joining Tottenham.

He is known as an expert negotiator, having been involved in the transfer of several high-profile players, including several who came to MLS in former Spurs forwards Clint Dempsey, Robbie Keane and Jermain Defoe.

When he arrives and starts, one of his first tasks will be to meet soccer leaders in metro Atlanta. Eales has compiled a long list of duties, including the naming of the team, the hiring of a technical director/coach, and other jobs.

The team must also set up the youth academy and decide on a training ground.

“We couldn’t be happier with Darren’s decision to join us as president of MLS Atlanta,” Blank said. “He brings a unique depth of experience to our organization, having played in the U.S. professionally and given his dealings with MLS as a club executive and legal counsel in the Premier League. His credentials speak for themselves; he knows how to lead a first-class organization and build a winning team.”