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Saturday, June 22, 2024

FA Cup final: Manchester City v Manchester United

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“It is just horrible, isn’t it?” says James. “All those bootcut jeans and that sort of stuff.”This image of Manchester United’s players on their way to their 2005 Christmas party – fairly unremarkable at the time – regularly resurfaces as a younger audience marvel at the everyday appearance of a set of superstars walking Manchester’s streets together.”Back then our whole business was United,” Eamonn adds. “They were everything – our bread and butter. There wasn’t a market for City pictures. “After every European game, United would go out in town, usually to [exclusive Deansgate bar] Sugar Lounge. It was almost part of the rules.”In the week, they might go out for cocktails or go shopping after training.”The Clarkes’ ability to capture United’s Christmas party – usually via a tip-off from a local contact – apparently set conspiracy theories running among the squad.”Manager Sir Alex Ferguson would always speak to us when he saw us – ‘Are you boys still doing it? Well done’ – and I think he knew that if we were outside nightclubs and the rest, it almost policed the players,” says Eamonn.”The players were convinced that we were telling him what they were up to. Or, the other way round – that he was telling us where to find them.”It is a harder job now. Manchester has more places catering to those seeking the high life and a low profile.Gary Neville, part of the 2005 Christmas party (wool coat over leather jacket, ripped jeans, white trainers), owns one. He added the Stock Exchange building – where that 2005 party took place – to his property portfolio in 2013.”Back then, there weren’t that many places to go,” says James. “Manchester wasn’t the city it is now.”These footballers used to shop for clothes in one shop – Flannels. The staff there would tell the players who had bought what so they didn’t have the same gear.”It is a different sport nowadays as well. Now, they go home, nap, and spend time with their families.”A few hours after this shot was taken, Carlos Tevez crossed the divide.The Argentine had spent two successful seasons on loan at Manchester United, but opted for Etihad Stadium rather than Old Trafford when it came to making a permanent move from West Ham.The announcement was made the day after a meal out with his former United team-mate Patrice Evra.City ratcheted up the inevitable furore over Tevez’s move – paying for sky-blue billboards featuring Tevez and the phrase ‘Welcome to Manchester’ on the city’s boundaries. Ferguson said the stunt was indicative of a “small club with a small mentality”. United fans defaced some of the adverts. A rivalry that had lain dormant during City’s drop down the divisions was bubbling once more.”A month after Tevez moved to City, my mate who was a chef at [upmarket Italian restaurant] San Carlo phoned me,” says James.”He couldn’t believe what he was seeing: Tevez and Evra, now on opposing teams, were back there having lunch together.”We knew that if it got out, there would be hell to pay.”It did, and there was.Evra told Rio Ferdinand’s Five in 2023, external that Ferguson had called him into his office the next day, having read a newspaper report of the meal, accompanied by the Clarkes’ archive picture.”Ferguson said ‘If I see you again outside with Tevez, I’m going to rip your contract,'” said Evra.In September 2008, Manchester City – freshly flush with cash from their takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group – had a £30m offer for striker Dimitar Berbatov accepted by Tottenham.Without the attraction of Champions League football, Berbatov didn’t even bother to meet City manager Mark Hughes.”It did not make any difference to me,” he said of City’s approach after securing his move to United. “I just wanted to come here.”Tevez’s motivation behind moving to City the following summer was partly because he was struggling to oust Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and Berbatov in United’s attack.Robin van Persie’s departure from Arsenal in 2012 was different. It was perhaps the first time the two clubs pursued the same star name with the same determination.”The two clubs hadn’t been shopping for the same class of player previously, but the time it got blurred was Robin van Persie,” says James.”It wasn’t certain whether he was going to sign for City or United”Both clubs would use the same private hospital in Hulme for new signings’ medicals at that time and we had to look at the security staff, the cars, and the medical staff accompanying him to know who he had chosen.””Mario Balotelli was brilliant for us,” says Eamonn. “Absolute gold dust.”Balotelli’s cult-hero status during a three-year spell at City was largely built on his off-pitch antics, with the myth gathering a momentum even the man himself struggled to understand.”You could have a sensible conversation with him,” says James. “There is a lot of made-up stuff about him – a lot of romance.”The stuff about him giving wedges of cash to the homeless people of Manchester…it got out of control.”The camouflage wrap on Balotelli’s top-of-the-range Bentley didn’t keep him under cover on his nights out, but the Clarkes’ most famous shot of the Italian came while he was on duty.”Roberto Mancini was very, very strict in training,” says James.”He and Mario went a long way back, knowing each other from Inter Milan, and Mancini would always make a point with Mario – pulling him aside and sort of telling him off.”In January 2013, after Balotelli had taken out team-mate Gael Clichy with a rash tackle, one of his and Mancini’s regular disagreements turned physical. The Clarkes’ resulting pictures went around the world.A year later, City left their Carrington training base, which was surrounded by footpaths and gave photographers and public alike a view on training, for a purpose-built centre next to Etihad Stadium in east Manchester.”When the current ownership came in in 2008, I think they looked at the training-ground situation and thought that it wasn’t professional,” says James. “They want it boxed off, private and organised. And that’s what they got.”We spoke to someone inside City and apparently they got someone to stand in the middle of the new training ground to assess all the sightlines.”They built a mound and put in a treeline to block one overlooking view, they got someone to visit a block of flats half a mile away to see what images the longest zoom lens would get… the club now is light years away from where it is was in Mancini’s time in terms of organisation and controlling their public image.”In March 2016, less than a month after making his first-team debut, an 18-year-old Marcus Rashford stood up City defender Martin Demichelis with a burst of speed, cantered in on goal and slipped the ball past Joe Hart for the only goal of the Manchester derby.He was the face of United’s future.”He looks so young in this photo,” says James.”That night after the derby, we photographed [then United manager] Louis van Gaal at a Chinese restaurant called Wings in town.”We congratulated him on spotting Rashford’s talent and promoting him to the team. He laughed and said: ‘It wasn’t hard, it was right in front of you.'”Eight years on, with Rashford entering the peak years of his career and United still to recover the heights they scaled in the Ferguson era, opinion is less unanimous on the attacker’s future.”Pictures of United players have become a little difficult to sell this season because the team have sunk so low,” says Eamonn. “But Rashford in his Rolls Royce is still one that sells.”If pictures of United players have become harder to sell, the Clarkes find that ones of City’s stars – despite all their recent success – have not got much easier.Eamonn has an example to illustrate.When the Clarkes took photos of Alexis Sanchez’s dogs arriving at their new home in Manchester, even without their United-bound owner, the images were bought and printed.Last summer, the brothers captured City manager Pep Guardiola meeting Kyle Walker for one-to-one city-centre talks amid speculation the unsettled full-back might move to Bayern Munich. There were no takers for the pictures.”The internet take-up for Manchester City pictures is really poor,” says Eamonn.”When South America wake up they instantly search ‘Man United’, when Hong Kong and China wake up, they do the same.”All the data and statistics tell the media that there is no point buying in Manchester City stuff because advertisers won’t pay for it.”The lower level of pressure on the four-time reigning champions – at least from the outside world – enables Guardiola and his players to operate in a different way.”Guardiola lives in a serviced apartment hotel place in Manchester city centre – he has hen nights sharing the same lift as him,” says James.”Mourinho did the same thing during his time in charge of United, but got lots of flak for it., external”Pep cycles everywhere. He’s got a proper racing bike. [Erik] Ten Hag’s got a bike too out in Cheshire – but it’s electric. He even needs help with that!”

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