Darren Eales has already hatched a plan should his old boss, and one of football’s more notorious negotiators, come calling.
Few know the tricks and tells of Daniel Levy better than Tottenham’s former executive director, who spent five seasons in north London. Even fewer hold such a persuasive bargaining chip. Eales has leverage lingering deep in his archives.
‘(Daniel) lives and breathes work, lives and breathes Tottenham,’ he tells Sportsmail. ‘The one thing I’ll always remember, though. I love doing karaoke and we were playing in Moscow. We’d gone up to the bar on the roof and they happened to have karaoke going.’
Darren Eales has already hatched a plan should his old boss Daniel Levy come calling
Eales spent five seasons in north London as Spurs’ executive director reporting to Levy
So Eales – now the hugely successful president of MLS outfit Atlanta United – applied powers of persuasion honed under the Spurs chairman.
‘I got him to do Crocodile Rock by Elton John,’ Eales recalls. How was Levy’s voice? ‘It was a faithful rendition. I’m not going to mark it for quality! But he enjoyed himself…’
‘I’ve got it somewhere on an old phone that I’ll have to dig up at some stage.’ The former barrister laughs.
‘Perhaps when we’re selling a player to Spurs.’
His old boss is certainly in the market for signings this summer. Tottenham have received an £150million injection as Levy battles to keep hold of Antonio Conte.
The Italian led Spurs back to the Champions League but has refused to commit his future to the club. Already it looks set to be another bumpy few months in north London.
‘I know sometimes he gets a bit of stick,’ Eales says, ‘he’s a hard negotiator but his heart is fully in Tottenham… from where the club was to the training facility they now have, the stadium – that was through everything Daniel’s done.’
After arriving in 2010, Eales helped Levy negotiate plenty of turbulence. He secured deals for Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric. He helped hire Mauricio Pochettino and was there during early designs of the new stadium which now stands as a glistening emblem of Tottenham’s ambition.
Eales helped hire Mauricio Pochettino and was there during early designs of the new stadium which now stands as a glistening emblem of Tottenham’s ambition
‘(Daniel) just demands a lot from everybody – he’s always switched on,’ Eales says. ‘It used to be with BlackBerry Messenger (BBM). Literally he would send you the ping if you hadn’t responded within 10 minutes… you’d always have to have the phone on anyway – Daniel would hardly sleep.’
The deal that lingers most prominently in his mind came in the summer of 2010 – Eales’ first transfer window following a move from West Brom.
‘We’re both at the training ground – (Daniel) is in the next room, saying: “What about Van der Vaart for this price?”’
That BBM landed on Eales’ phone around 90 minutes before the window shut.
‘I thought he was joking,’ he recalls. If only. And so Spurs embarked on a four-way negotiation – with Real Madrid, with Van der Vaart, with his agents. And with the clock. ‘We did that deal in an hour and 30 minutes.’
Even after a power cut. ‘That was a nervy, sleepless night,’ Eales recalls. But the transfer was ratified the following morning and Levy’s brinkmanship was repaid with a midfield genius.
After arriving in 2010, Eales helped Levy negotiate deals for the likes of Rafael van der Vaart
His stubbornness over Harry Kane paid fruit, too. Eales allowed himself a ‘wry smile’ last summer, when Kane tried and failed to force a move to Manchester City.
‘I wasn’t really surprised,’ he says. ‘It was always helpful for me working in tandem with him, everyone knew Daniel was hard. And in negotiation, he’s not going to blink. With Harry he was never going to blink. Once he said “this is the position”, you know he’s going to keep to it.’
It’s a tactic Eales himself used when Newcastle approached Atlanta about signing Miguel Almiron in 2019. The MLS side named their price; Newcastle eventually paid a club-record £20.5million.
Another trick Eales has taken across the pond? Codenames designed to cloak potential transfers in secrecy. ‘They had a boring code when I joined (Spurs) that was just A1, A2,’ Eales recalls. ‘I said: “We have to have something more interesting.”’
The idea: he and Levy could discuss high-profile players without even club staff knowing who could be coming or going.
The problem: they were clearly too cryptic. Eales has forgotten them all. Levy abandoned any pretence of mystery when Spurs attempted to secure a loan for David Bentley. Talks were planned for dinner at the end of a Premier League meeting.
‘I’ll chat with those two clubs and see if we can get something done,’ Eales told his boss.
He recalls: ‘There’s about eight of us there, I’m chatting away and you can’t just come straight in and say: “Hey, do you want Bentley?”
Instead he chewed the fat and soon a couple of avenues opened up. ‘I look at my phone and there are like 17 (messages) from Daniel saying: “Have we got a deal done yet?”
‘He’s sitting literally on another table, it’s like: “Come on man!”’ Eales laughs. ‘He’s always pushing the envelope.’
Eales also squeezed a world-record £86million fee from Real Madrid for Gareth Bale in 2013
Never more so, perhaps, then in 2013, when he squeezed a world-record £86million fee from Real Madrid for Bale.
That negotiation was handed over to Eales at the eleventh hour after Levy fell out with Madrid president Florentino Perez.
‘I think it was the night before we finished the deal,’ he recalls. ‘It was like two in the morning and I was taking over. It was almost like: “Right I’m done”.’
Can you blame him? ‘That was the most complicated deal – different currencies for different payments because everyone was having an argument about every aspect of the deal. Real Madrid wanted it to be lower than (Cristiano) Ronaldo’s… so we had to craft it some way that they could say it was lower – even though it wasn’t.
‘That was just Daniel saying: “I want the biggest transfer.” Once that was happening, he was going to get every last penny.’
Eales is now the hugely successful president of MLS outfit Atlanta United (pictured, 2018)
Now, over in the States, David Beckham is Eales’ counterpart in MLS. They spoke while Beckham was trying to build Inter Miami from scratch.
And they go back a while: Beckham came to train at Spurs in 2011, while playing for Los Angeles Galaxy.
They needed a signed affidavit, a signed waiver,’ Eales recalls. ‘David was like: “I just want to train. Draw up anything you like.”’
And so the former barrister began to write: ‘I, David Beckham, disclaim any rights…’ On went the signature. Off Beckham went to train.
David Beckham is Eales’ counterpart and they spoke while he was trying to build Inter Miami
‘I’m in my office, I look up, there’s a Sky Sports camera and Beckham’s got his ankle and he’s being looked at by the physio,’ Eales remembers.
‘I cr***** myself (and) go running out.’ By the time he reached the pitch, Beckham was walking off. ‘He just had a blister so they were just cutting the tape off his ankle,’ Eales was told.
His panic subsided, fears allayed over whether that affidavit would stand up in court. No doubt he and Levy had a plan to negotiate their way out of that bit of bother, anyway.