Roberto Mancini is manager of Manchester City.
He spent a fortune on players because the club’s owner was desperate to win the Premiership.
In truth there was really only one team to worry about, the other Manchester team: United.
Manchester United win the Premiership virtually every year, they dominate English football.
But in the 2011-12 season, United were worried.
Manchester City had been top for much of the season.
This didn’t usually worry United.
United’s manager, Alex Ferguson, was brilliant at mind games.
He kept his own players stoked up and made them believe top was their rightful place.
And the teams who started in front of United kept looking over their shoulder, nervously watching them catching up.
And eventually the tension worked, they lost their nerve and cracked, and United overtook them and won the Premiership.
Traditionally, football managers try to convince their players they’ll win by telling everyone how good their team is.
In every interview, every article, every press conference.
They try to instil belief and confidence into their own players, and fear into the opposition.
But Roberto Mancini didn’t do that, he did the opposite.
With Manchester United eight points ahead, Mancini publicly conceded the title race was over and Manchester United had already won.
They were impossible for City to catch, the title was theirs.
Reporters hadn’t heard such defeatism before.
They said, surely City can still catch them.
Mancini said it was mathematically possible, but it really wasn’t probable.
United were just too good a team and too far ahead.
The reporters didn’t know what to make of this.
And more importantly, neither did Manchester United.
Alex Ferguson had never heard anything like this.
He knew how to deal with bluff and bombast and threats.
But he didn’t know what to do about this.
And neither did his players.
Some of the fire seemed to go out of them.
This was an anti-climax.
They were used to fighting to the last game of the season, but the opposition was saying it was already over.
So they didn’t have to try so hard, they didn’t have to give everything.
They could coast.
And that’s what happened.
Game-by-game, Manchester United gradually lost their eight point lead.
And, in the last minute of extra time, in the last game of the season, for the first time in 44 years, Manchester City won the Premiership.
Roberto Mancini later admitted that in those news conferences he hadn’t been talking to the reporters.
He’d been talking to Manchester United’s players.
In private, in the City dressing room, where no one else could hear, he stoked his own players up.
He told them they could win.
But he didn’t want anyone else to know that.
Especially not Manchester United.
He wanted their players relaxed, resting on their laurels, taking their foot off the pedal.
So he publicly surrendered.
That made United over-confident.
And that made them beatable.
Straight out of Sun Tzu’s “Art Of War”.
“Deception is everything.
Whatever you are, convince your enemy you are the opposite.
If strong, then weak. If weak, then strong.
If advancing, then retreating. If retreating, then advancing.
If many, then few. If few, then many.
Deception will cause confusion and confusion will cause weakness.”
And that’s how Sun Tzu won the Premiership.