Darren Eales has helped turn Atlanta United into one of the most successful franchises in Major League Soccer. Not only did the team win the 2018 MLS Championship, much to the delight of the record-setting crowds that fill the Mercedes-Benz Stadium on game day, but Eales set up an innovative recruiting strategy that changed the league. Now, Eales has overseen the biggest transfer in MLS history with Atlanta United sending its star player Miguel Almiron to Newcastle United for a record $27 million. When he’s not at home with his five-year old twins, or rooting on his team, he is on the road scouting talent around the world and making plans for the next big thing.
Here, the soccer club president shares his tips and tools for getting the most out of each day.
What do you find yourself doing when you should be working?
1. Catching up on MLS Reddit
2. Watching midweek Premier league or champion’s league soccer. Matches are on in the middle of the day in the U.S., so it’s hard to not tune in.
3. I’m very competitive and love a good contest. I often find myself spending time coming up with a competition or raffle for our associates instead of doing other work I should be doing. I went to the World Cup in Russia this past summer, and when I returned, we had a trivia contest with our staff–the prizes were fun tchotchkes from my trip. Some of the big-ticket prizes included a wolf hat with ears and some priceless Russian nesting dolls (literally priceless, as I got them for free from a sponsor).
What do you do to clear your head at the end of the day?
I like to turn my phone off an hour before bed to unwind. I enjoy a good cryptic crossword puzzle (in fact, it is one of the things I miss most about England). The Telegraph (UK) is my favorite, or if I can’t get hold of a cryptic, then I’ll make do with the New York Times Sunday crossword.
What five books have changed your life?
1. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I read this book for fun when I was on a study abroad program at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. This was the first book I had read for fun (rather than for study purposes) since I was a kid. It got me hooked on reading for pleasure, and I’ve been an avid reader ever since.
2. Anything by P.G. Wodehouse. Whenever I’m stressed or down, I turn to Wodehouse. The funniest writer in the English language, bar none. Trying to chose a favorite book is like picking your favorite child, but if you held a gun to my head, it would be The Luck of the Bodkins.
3. Emma by Jane Austen. The best Austen novel without a shadow of a doubt. My wife insists it is Pride and Prejudice, but she is wrong. (She only has a PhD in English Literature from Cambridge University, so what does she really know anyhow … )
4. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers. I’m a huge murder-mystery aficionado. Sayers is one of my favorite in the genre, and this classic is set in an East Anglian village, so it really evokes childhood memories every time I read it.
5. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems. This is the twins’ favorite board book, so I’ve read it more times than I’d like to admit. Complete with dodgy American accent!
Where do you go to relax and clear your head?
My vacation options have changed a lot since having kids. Before the twins, my wife, Faith, and I would nearly always go on holiday to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. It has the most beautiful beaches and is the least developed and crowded of the Islands. I thoroughly enjoy doing nothing while on vacation besides relaxing. I just can’t understand those people who go on holiday and want to do a full slate of activities and sightseeing while away.
Now that we have the twins, we vacation anywhere that offers activities to keep the boys entertained. When we’re in season and just have a few days to escape, we’ve been heading to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It’s a beautiful town with great restaurants, and most importantly, there’s a brilliant train museum there that the boys can’t get enough of–they really love trains! For a beach destination near Atlanta, we like Sea Island, Georgia. We recently visited and had a lovely time there.
What’s a product that you are currently in love with?
I am deeply in love with my Coop Home Goods’ shredded memory foam pillow. I got it in summer last year, and it has changed my life. Best pillow ever!
Which app do you look at …
Once a day? The Athletic is a new, emerging sports outlet, and I quite enjoy reading through their latest articles
Once an hour? What’sApp, to help me stay connected with friends and family all over the globe
Far too often? TweetBot—it’s an app that curates all of the Twitter accounts I’m following into one
What service can you not live without?
DoorDash. I definitely could not live without this app. We order dinner through DoorDash nearly every night, once the kids are down to bed. It always comes down to sushi or Thai.
What do you do to get going in the morning?
I have 4-year-old twin boys and tend to take the morning shift. Our morning routine usually consists of me bringing the twins milk and reading them stories. After story time, we make breakfast together. My cooking repertoire is pretty limited, so our menu usually consists of Eggo waffles and Cheerios. I leave the house around 8 a.m. to head into work and always grab a flat white at the local coffee shop on the way into the office.
On the days when I’m not on daddy duty or when I’m feeling extra ambitious, I’ll wake up early and try to fit in a run through Piedmont Park. That always gets my mind and body going.
What’s your favorite thing to eat when …
You’re in the middle of work and need a quick burst of energy? A Cadbury Double Decker. You can’t get them in the United States, so I always stock up when I go overseas and bring back a stash. I just came back from Europe yesterday, so I have a large stash at the moment.
You need a quick takeout lunch? There’s a fantastic Mexican joint next to Atlanta United’s Training Ground. Whenever we go there, I think I’ll try something new, but I end up ordering the chicken fajitas every time.
When you have plenty of time to go out and eat? I love a good tasting menu. I was recently in Chicago and went to Alinea. It was a great tasting menu and special experience. I highly recommend it.
What classic product do you believe nobody’s ever improved on it?
A tea kettle and teapot. Alright, I know that’s two products! People try to serve tea in America using hot water from a coffee maker, and it’s totally unacceptable. And then to add insult to injury, they will pour the tepid water into a mug and just bung a tea bag in. If you visit Atlanta United’s Training Ground, you’ll notice a classic tea kettle together with an Atlanta United branded teapot by our coffee station–you get a proper cuppa here!
What have you recently splurged on but feel no buyer’s remorse because you adore it?
My Apple Watch, although I got it for Christmas and only opened the box a few weeks ago, so I have no buyer’s remorse, yet, but check back with me this time next month.
What are your go-to travel tips?
- I take a pigeon stuffed animal, which is a character from the Mo Willems children’s book, with me wherever I go and take pictures of Pigeon in each destination to send back to my boys. I like to have fun with them and will often times take a picture and sneak Pigeon into the backdrop and see if the twins can spot him. That pigeon is well traveled–he’s been to countries all over South America (including Ecuador and Argentina), as well as Europe (Italy, England, Russia, you name it).
- On the plane, I always try to get the window seat, so I can catch up on sleep. I avoid the meals–no dinners or breakfast for me. I focus solely on sleeping, so I can hit the ground running as soon as I land.
- I never check bags. Ever.
- Traveling is the one time that the boys are allowed to watch movies on the iPads, so they absolutely love it! It gives them something special to focus on. We have yet to make the trip to England with them to visit family. The plan is to go next Christmas, but we’ll see how it goes. We’re building ourselves up to that!
- Oftentimes when I’m traveling, it’s because I’m scouting international players or talking with a team about a potential player purchase or negotiation, so I have to be careful not to wear anything with Atlanta United branding. It’s difficult, because almost everything I own is branded Atlanta United, and with our growing notoriety (we won the MLS Cup 2018 Championship in only our second season of play), it is becoming more and more difficult to remain inconspicuous in the airport.
What’s your necessary vice?
I must admit that I enjoy a good fruity cocktail. You can save the sophisticated dry martinis for someone else–the fruitier the cocktail, the better for me!
What is on your playlist?
I’m a big fan of music, and particularly karaoke. Karaoke has become a large part of the office culture of Atlanta United. Any new staff members that join the club must sing karaoke as a form of initiation into our team. I offer to sing, too, so they feel less intimidated, but they quickly wise up and realize that I’m only offering because I love it and will never miss a chance to get behind the microphone! That said, my playlist for my daily mood and use consists of:
When I’m waking up: “Another Sunny Day” by Belle and Sebastian
When I’m working out: “Someday” by The Strokes
When I’m driving: The Shins (I’ve become re-obsessed with them lately) and Arctic Monkeys
When I’m hard at work on big project: Murmur by REM
When I need to get psyched for a big presentation: “OX4” by Ride. This was also my pump-up song before hitting the pitch. I played soccer both in college and professionally in the U.S. for a few years before hanging up my boots!
When I’m ready to mellow out at the end of the day: “Ain’t That Enough” by Teenage Fanclub
My go-to karaoke song: “Karma Chameleon” by Culture Club
What do you do with the time when you have …
A free five minutes? Twitter. Some might say that I’m addicted! I like to create cryptic tweets or riddles for our supporters, especially to tease player signing announcements, so if I have five free minutes, I’ll spend them crafting the perfect riddle for Twitter.
A free hour? I’ll spend it speaking to family in England, or if it’s the middle of a workday and I have no meetings, I’ll head to a nearby coffee shop for a change of scenery. I love the Chattahoochee Coffee Company—it’s nearby the office but tucked away along the Chattahoochee River in a very beautiful and undisrupted area. It doesn’t feel like you’re in the middle of a major metropolitan city.
A whole free day? When I have a free day, I’ll spend it with my family. My wife and I will take the boys to a fun spot in town, such as the Children’s Museum, the Georgia Aquarium, or Piedmont Park to play sports. Right now they’re liking soccer and baseball.