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Maguire, Fred & Man Utd derby heroics: Woodward transfer policy vindicated (for one day)

COMMENT: Like much of the players. The manager. Ed Woodward will have slept easily on Saturday night. For once... actually for the first time... Manchester United had turned over their neighbours thanks in no small way to outdoing them in the transfer market.

Marcus Rashford was outstanding on the day. Superb. Winning and converting the penalty to set United on their way. Just as he did against Tottenham in midweek, the homespun hero proved himself the best player on the pitch.

But running Rashford close for that accolade were two teammates who could easily have been in Manchester City Blue on Saturday. Only United's willingness, driven by their vice-chairman, to outbid their rivals saw the pair eventually land at Old Trafford.

Going into the game, Pep Guardiola, the City manager, conceded as much. The Catalan acknowledging things would be so much easier this season if the board had relented and met Leicester City's asking price for Harry Maguire.

"He's a United player. He decided. They paid more than we wanted to pay and he's there," stated Guardiola in the pre-match. "I think he's an exceptional player for United, for the national team, and he decided to go there."

Bigger offer. Bigger wages. And for one day - at least - Woodward's decision-making was proven right. Maguire was imperious over the 90 minutes.

And the same story can apply to Maguire's teammate, Fred. Pilloried. Mocked. It was only a couple of weeks ago the London dailies were declaring the Brazilian United's worst signing of the century. Opinion pieces were dedicated to trying to explain why Guardiola and City ever considered signing the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder.

But today, Fred is the headliner. Beating City's players on the pitch. Staring down City's fans off it. And in the post-match, responding to all the abuse, the missiles, in a measured and dignified manner. Like Maguire, for one day at least, Fred performed as a player worthy of a place in Guardiola's plans.

But today they're running around in the Red of United. And at the Etihad, both men offered Woodward some justification for his mega spending. Against City, Maguire and Fred were no big money flops. Both players more than vindicated Woodward's approach - as the team did for his backing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The manager's situation has been discussed amongst the players - almost as much as it has on the outside. And if any critic needed proof that Solskjaer has the dressing room behind him, victories over Tottenham and City in a matter of days should be enough.

Rashford, with his heart still racing at the final whistle, offered Solskjaer - without prompting - his support. Indeed, beyond the Norwegian, Rashford's off-the-cuff remarks suggested even more. It was a message to the higher-ups, beyond the manager - even the vice-chairman. The youth policy. Buying British. Returning to the United Way. The players are buying into it. And this week's results are proof it's the right course.

"It's been an inconsistent start to the season, it's a young team, and we've been trying to get the right fundamentals and the only way to get consistency is to go through these hard times," declared United's No10. "You have to stick with the manager and process. If we do that we've got something to be excited about in the future."

Was there a hint of a cultural change there? Highlighting a mapped out "process", in this quick soundbite, Rashford spoke volumes. It's not every day you hear a player discussing team building and long-term strategy. Indeed, it could've been his manager doing the talking. They're clearly on the same page. Solskjaer has a vision for this squad. He's explained to his players. He's involved them. And they're buying into it.

So what about the hosts? City, on Saturday's evidence - indeed from the season thus far - are coming to the end of their cycle. As this column discussed last season, it was always going to be difficult for Guardiola to manage without Vincent Kompany. And he'll find it even worse come the summer when David Silva departs - all the while Sergio Aguero adds another year to his now 31 year-old legs. That City have now pulled back from contract negotiations with Fernandinho can only add to the concern Guardiola has regarding the near future.

That's three greats of the club who could be gone in the space of 12 months. And it could be four if Aguero decides to wind things down. Even with City's spending power, no team is capable of moving on from four such heavyweights without a period of upheaval.

Which could force a rethink the next time they find themselves in a straight auction with Woodward and co. City's decision makers don't want to be giving Woodward more easy nights as they did on Saturday.

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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