Atlanta’s Darren Eales played the negotiations very well, in our eyes, knowing that Newcastle United owner Mike Ashley needed to buy Almiron, a 24-year-old target Rafa Benitez long-identified as an answer to the Magpies’ attacking woes.
Eales also knew he (likely) had to sell Almiron to get past Major League Soccer’s limit of three Designated Players, and also because Almiron was ready to try his hand abroad and the Five Stripes have been clear they won’t hold players back.
But Campos says Eales figure of $30-plus million was not realistic, and that the market quickly set the price tag. As Newcastle fans in a relegation fight still wait for Almiron’s debut, Campos claims the sale price turned out to be the same figure proffered early in the transfer window, and that “bigger” clubs wanted Almiron but only on loan. From Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle:
“Atlanta United put up a lot of obstacles to sell Miguel and we did not expect this kind of attitude from the club. Miguel Almiron did not leave Atlanta happy because of all the difficulties that the club put for him to get transferred.”
One of those skeptics is particularly important to the discussion, because he’s Atlanta United president Darren Eales, via MLSSoccer.com:
“It’s funny, you know,” Eales told 92.9 The Game. “You’ve made it when they start to make up quotes from you. One was they called me Eagles and the other was the $11 million dollar fee. It would take triple that to even get out of bed to look at offers for Almiron.”
Part of that, of course, is playing the market, as Atlanta has been very clear it won’t stand in the way of taking the stars it develops from reaching their potential.
“At this stage it is still as planned,” Eales said.
Even so, Atlanta United owner Arthur Blank acknowledged the complex retractable roof on the $1.5 billion stadium has been a challenge.
“There’s always an issue with a roof that is that complicated and large,” Blank said. “It’s not an issue, it’s just the complexity. A roof like that has never been built in the world, and when you build something that iconic and unique, it does take more time, more schedule, it’s more money and more everything, but the end product for the next 40 years in Atlanta is going to be worth it.”
Blank also owns the NFL Atlanta Falcons, who will share the facility with Atlanta United.
The Falcons said last week they expected an update on the timeline for the stadium within a few days.
Blank, Eales and MLS Commissioner Dan Garber on Tuesday celebrated the unveiling of Atlanta United’s training complex in suburban Cobb County.
Garber said in a ceremony at the training facility the MLS “can’t wait to get into Mercedes Benz Stadium in September.” He said later he misspoke when he said September.
“We are still focused to getting in as planned,” Garber said of Atlanta United’s July 30 home game against Orlando City scheduled for the new stadium. “The goal is to be into the stadium in late summer, so don’t read too much into my comments about September. Chalk it up to the commissioner getting too excited up on the podium.”
Atlanta United’s temporary home facility is Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd Stadium.
Atlanta United makes Martinez loan a permanent transfer
“The loan deal had an option to make the transfer permanent which we have now triggered as planned,” Atlanta United president Darren Eales said. “Josef has been a fantastic addition to our club and it’s clear he has the ability to continuing making an impact in our league.”
It’s a wise move for any number of reasons, the least of which being a virtuoso season at his age could net a wild transfer fee down the line.
“Last Thursday in practice, I was welling up to see the guys in Atlanta training tops with Tata coaching them,” Eales told PST earlier this month. “I’ve had over two years without any games. I hadn’t experienced the highs and lows of why we’re all in this game. Come the fifth of March, it’s going to be a quite an emotional time.”
Not just for Eales, but for an Atlanta market which has proven quite rabid for the sport. United has sold almost 30,000 season tickets, a record for an expansion team.
The excitement isn’t simply a matter of a shiny new toy for sports fans in Georgia. Eales, along with technical director Carlos Bocanegra and manager Tata Martino, have constructed what, at least on paper, could be a monster.
There’s the Designated Player trio of Miguel Almiron, Josef Martinez, and Hector Villalba, young guys Miles Robinson and Andrew Carleton, MLS mainstays Michael Parkhurst and Tyrone Mears, and Chilean veteran Carlos Carmona.
None of those assets were there when Eales, 44, bought into owner Arthur Blank’s vision in September 2014. And that’s what gave the gig its allure.
“You talk about soccer being a global game, and it’s very rare you get a chance to start a whole new club from scratch,” Eales said. “To do it with an owner like Arthur Blank who is committed to the City of Atlanta, committed to the community, and committed to a winning team just made it an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Eales wasn’t a stranger to America, a former Ivy League Player of the Year from his playing days at Brown University. He later went home to England where he became a director at West Bromwich Albion en route to his executive job at White Hart Lane.
So, yes, the acumen is there. And Eales’ admiration for MLS is a lot higher than many American critics suspect.
“I dealt with MLS from the other side of the fence with Robbie Keane to LA, Jermain Defoe to Toronto, and Clint Dempsey to Seattle,” Eales said. “Fresh perspective when you come from the outside, you look at how teams have built their teams and you can look at it with a fresh pair of eyes.
“The one thing I was clear on from the start, was I felt MLS, globally outside of America, it almost gets more respect from other countries than it does in America. I’ve seen that with players like Simon Dawkins. When I was at Tottenham, we loaned him to San Jose, he developed as a player and we were able to sell him off to Derby. It’s a global league, the standard of football is getting better all the time. I really felt the time was right where you could try to get players in their prime and sell it to them as career development, not a dead end.”
Blank contacted Eales, and convinced him that Atlanta United wasn’t a vanity play. The soccer team wasn’t going to be the Atlanta Falcons’ “little brother”, but a major part of the community.
“Building a roster, putting in the academy, building a training ground, an affiliation with the Charleston Battery, all of these things can’t happen overnight,” Eales said. “There’s been a lot of thoughts and strategy that’s gone into building the roster.”
Not to mention time zones, travel, surfaces, calendar, salary cap, the popularity of other leagues… Eales wanted to find a technical director with both positive vision and MLS wisdom. Enter Carlos Bocanegra, the USMNT captain who had started and finished his playing career in MLS before performing well overseas with Fulham, Rangers, and Rennes.
“What I didn’t want to do was come in from the Premier League and say, ‘Everything European is the way we should do it and Americans don’t know anything about soccer.’ Clearly that’s not the case and I knew that.”
Eales said Bocanegra is a good friend in addition to the perfect man for the job. He added that both men didn’t take long to embrace the city, and that the Falcons’ run to the Super Bowl didn’t hurt sports fever in the Peach State.
Now Georgia will turn its attention to the red and black of Atlanta United, a team brimming with talent and experience. One of the early bets for Eales and Bocanegra was that it wouldn’t be about older big names. When asked about the successes of Sebastian Giovinco at Toronto and Nicolas Lodeiro in Seattle, Eales almost bristles at the thought that the moves inspired him. Young and fast was already entrenched in his model.
“It’s been a long time planning,” Eales said. “We were already going down this model. Lodeiro has been fantastic in Seattle and Giovinco is by far and away the best player in the league. He was that first one where someone was taken not over 30 and it showed, despite what the Italian national team manager said at the time, you could come here, play your game and get your career back on track.
“We felt we could go even further was to get those younger players. We’ve got Miguel at 22, Hector at 22, and Josef at 23. You’ll see increasingly now it will be a chance for us as a whole league to bring in top players and get bigger and better, year on year.”
While Eales has not had the fun of match day and won’t really have that experience until March 5’s visit from the Red Bulls, he’s had fun keeping an eye on his last two Premier League clubs and their top half success.
“I have to laugh because I still talk to a lot of my colleagues back at Tottenham and when they say ‘We’re doing well since you left’ I tell them it’s all about building the foundation,” Eales said.
“Chelsea have had a great season but Tottenham with the young squad they’ve got and the manager they’ve got in Mauricio Pochettino, they are going to be titlists in the near future. And West Brom, I love West Brom. It’s a great family club and it’s really exciting to see them solid in the top half of the table. It’s a testament to the guys, Tony Pulis and the team, how they built with a plan year on year to become a solid Premier League club. They have a strategy and they stuck to it.”
So, too, does Eales and United. The roster he’s assembled and his legendary manager combine to give the look of an instant playoff contender.
Yet Eales, like MLS, is going to have to see it. The difference is that United’s president already believes it. Bring on the chills.