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From Columbus to the Manchester derby: Iheanacho’s remarkable rise

The rivalry of Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho is adding a whole new dimension to the Manchester Derby, plus what will City do without Aguero.

Here’s something you probably didn’t know.

Two years ago Kelechi Iheanacho was playing in front of virtually nobody for the Columbus Crew in a scrimmage as Manchester City waited for paperwork to be completed to sign the Nigerian striker.

[ VIDEO: Zlatan trolls Man City ]

It’s a story which sparked few headlines two years ago when it happened but now it takes on a whole new meaning.

Iheanacho, 19, could start in the Manchester derby on Saturday as Man City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports) in what is being billed as the most-expensive game in the history of the Premier League with over $900 million spent in transfer fees on the players involved.

With Sergio Aguero suspended for the huge encounter between two bitter rivals, Pep Guardiola is ready to put his trust in the Nigerian teenager with no other strikers around at City.

[ VIDEO: How big is this Manchester derby? ]

So, how did he end up in Columbus, Ohio in 2014?

Well, former Man City player and current director of football operations at New York City, Claudio Reyna, knows the Crew’s head coach Gregg Berhalter well from their U.S. national team days together and arranged for Iheanacho to train with Columbus while City tied up the loose ends and awaited international clearance on his $400,000 transfer from Taye Academy in Nigeria.

Since Iheanacho arrived at City he’s been a revelation, scoring 14 goals in his debut season in 2015-16 and he scored a screamer for the full Nigerian national team last week as his rise from being crowned the best player at the U-17 World Cup in 2014 (he scored six goals and added seven assists as Nigeria won the competition) has been swift.

Think about this while you watch the Manchester derby on Saturday: on Sept. 3, 2014 Iheanacho was lining up in a scrimmage in Obetz, Ohio for Columbus against the Dayton Dutch Lions of the USL Pro in front of nobody. On Sept. 10, 2016 he will likely be playing against Manchester United in a huge derby match in front of 75,000 at Old Trafford and hundreds of millions watching around the world.

Oh, by the way, Iheanacho scored a first half hat trick in that game for Columbus two years ago as a 17-year-old. Oh how Guardiola would love him to repeat that on Saturday.

Follow @JPW_NBCSports