At peace and relaxed, Keane is ready for his greatest challenge

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For a man of his considerable reputation, for the last great rebel of English and Irish football, Roy Keane's career in management began yesterday with a word that no one expected to hear from him: sorry.

It was an admission to his new chairman Niall Quinn, the man he described as a "coward" and a "muppet" who could "rot in hell" over the Republic of Ireland's 2002 World Cup finals catastrophe, that he was ready to make peace. And to Sir Alex Ferguson, who he finally pushed too far in November, that, after 12 years together, the fault for Keane's spectacular exit from Manchester United belonged to the player and not his manager.

Mick McCarthy, Keane's old nemesis, will have to wait for his apology. As Keane began life as manager of Sunderland yesterday, the greatest, most volatile player of his Premiership generation delivered a stark, uncompromising analysis of himself as a player and how he expects to adapt to his new career. Keane the player, of bulging veins in the temple and perpetual fury, was not, he said, the template for Keane the manager.

That much was clear when, as he was asked about his relationship with Quinn, Keane leant forward in his chair and said: "Listen, I have apologised to lots of people and I am sure I will have to a few more times. That was discussed when we [Keane and Quinn] first met. If you are going to beat about the bush and ask, 'Did I apologise?', of course I did. But it wasn't a case of apologising to get a job. Far from it. I don't think I was that desperate or ever will be.

"People are making a big issue of what's happened in the past but when I met up with Niall we sorted it out whether I took this job or not. People have this impression of me but it's important to move on. I've had differences with literally thousands of people but I'm humble enough to apologise if I've done something wrong. That's the character I am, I care."

On Ferguson, he simply said that, yes, he had apologised and he might even call his former manager over the next few days to request loan players to strengthen his Sunderland squad. His career at United was ended by his infamous MUTV interview deemed not fit for broadcasting by the club in which he lambasted his team-mates, and yesterday Keane admitted that he may have "crossed the line" in that final chapter of his life at Old Trafford.

But from such a serious man there were jokes, too. "It has been so hectic. I got back from holiday on Saturday, met the players on Sunday, came to the game on Monday afternoon and the Middlesbrough match on Monday night," Keane said. "Will I get back for Love Island?" He had consulted his four children on management and they said: "I should go for it because I like telling people what to do."

That was the apologies out of the way, but after a career like Keane's there was a great deal more to discuss. His Stadium of Light confessional was an absorbing explanation of the man he had been as a player, and the kind of manager he expected to be. It took in the rage that, as a player, occasionally consumed him and the image that he had created for himself. There was even a word for McCarthy, too.

So how will the man who demanded nothing short of the best as a player reconcile himself to managing the team 23rd in the Championship? "I wouldn't be sitting here if I thought that I couldn't do it," he said. "All I expected from team-mates was 100 per cent. I never criticised players for having bad games but for slacking off. I told the players here that if they give 100 per cent to Sunderland there will not be a problem but if they take their eye off the ball there will be. It's very straightforward.

"I think it would be hard managing 11 Roy Keanes. Everyone is different and you have to treat every player differently but it is up to the manager to gauge what certain players need. They might need a kick up the backside and they might need an arm around their shoulders. I have done that many times as a player but of course it is very rarely heard of. If a player gives 100 per cent I will be the first to congratulate him but that was my job as captain of the club.

"You have to go for challenges in life. If I hadn't taken it I might have looked back and thought I might not have got the opportunity again. I've had offers like television [work] but it didn't interest me, becoming a manager did. They [Sunderland] got in touch when I was in Portugal, I was sitting by the pool in the villa - beautiful. My attitude was to wait and then within 10 seconds of the phone call I thought, 'What am I waiting for?' Big club, beautiful stadium, big fanbase - Why not?"

That was an insight into Keane after his playing career, but it was his description of the player he had been that was most intriguing. For a man who remains so fearsome, Keane apologised a lot yesterday.

He had spoken publicly only once since leaving United, when he signed for Celtic, but so much of what contributed to his departure remains unsaid and there was an element of sadness in his description of the image he had created for himself. "When I was playing I saw games like a war, I was playing for the biggest club in the game in Man United and I had to lead by example and that was to win at all costs," Keane said. "I'm aware I can't be going off the handle as much as I did as a player but if I feel something's not right I will nail it. But hopefully a bit more subtlety.

"I haven't helped myself over the years with the scene I had at United and Ireland. I was maybe football mad and a bit of a ... psycho is too strong a word. Football means a hell of a lot to me. It was like an acting job, I used to feel that when I drove up to Old Trafford I would turn into this kind of mean machine. When I was going to work or games it was like going to war. That was the only way I could describe it.

"I have no doubt over the years I crossed that white line. It's probably cost me a lot, the World Cup in 2002 and you could say my United career but, as much as that is a downside, it's a plus for me as well because I care about the game, who I'm playing for and who I'm playing with. I will be looking to get the balance right and hopefully that comes with experience when you get older and wiser. I've made mistakes."

He balked at discussing in detail the last days of his fallout with Ferguson although he did say that what got him "in trouble" at United was getting the "coach's or manager's head on me when really I shouldn't". Keane may have been in a conciliatory mood but the charity did not quite extend to McCarthy, whose Wolves team he will face at Molineux on 25 November.

"I would have thought so," was Keane's response to the question of whether he would shake hands with the former Ireland manager with whom he fell out in 2002. And apologise? "We'll see. I will if I feel I have done something wrong but this stuff I weigh up on a daily basis."

It does not seem that Keane was about to change his mind anytime soon on McCarthy and his point that he would not accuse any of his players of "faking injury" was a reference to the accusation his former manager made that sparked their bitter dispute in 2002.

Instead he said that he would be more like Ferguson - "I always enjoyed the way he backed the players and defended them" - but would ultimately be his own man.

It was in July and August during his Uefa A licence coaching course, among the PE teachers and amateur coaches, he said that his passion for management was confirmed. When Quinn called again he accepted and recruited his former Nottingham Forest contemporary, Tony Loughlan who, as head coach, will have to make quite a leap from his former job coaching the eight- to 13-year-olds at Leicester City's academy.

Having dealt with the media and endured with good humour the kind of day that a man like him might have been expected to dread, Keane has his first day at the training ground today. "I won't be joining in [the practice matches], my boots will not be coming out," he said. "No chance." He said the last part with a smile, but the really serious business has only just begun.

Tony who? The loyal friend thrown into the limelight

"He is someone I trust and I have great faith in him. He's the one person I've kept in touch with over 20 years." And when that avowal of faith comes from Roy Keane, it is obvious that Sunderland's new head coach, Tony Loughlan, is the most loyal kind of friend.

Loughlan, 36, was the first person Keane turned to when he embarked on his career in management with Sunderland this month - although it is not only his ability as a coach that the former Manchester United captain is counting on. For a footballer who was thought to have few friends in the game, Keane trusts the virtually unknown Loughlan more than any other.

The two were together as young players at Nottingham Forest. While Keane went on to win, among other things, seven Premiership titles and a European Cup at Manchester United, Loughlan went to Lincoln City. He had been a full-time coach at Leicester City's academy for three years when plucked from near-obscurity to join Keane at Sunderland.

From coaching the eight- to 13-year-olds, on Monday evening, Loughlan was at Keane's side to watch Portsmouth beat Middlesbrough at the Riverside. Leicester were, according to Keane, "sad to lose" Loughlan, who is rated highly as a coach.

Second careers: Great players who became managers (with mixed results)

Kenny Dalglish

Dalglish was 34 when Liverpool made him the club's player-manager in 1985. At his first press conference he had to rise above the old dressing-room banter to answer questions about the 39 people killed at Heysel. In his first season achieved the League and FA Cup double. Later led Blackburn to the title, but is now out of football after spells at Newcastle and Celtic.

Ruud Gullit

Gullit was 33 and playing for Chelsea when he succeeded Glenn Hoddle as manager in 1996. Won FA Cup in first season, but was fired after two years when Ken Bates branded him a "part-time, playboy manager". Replaced Dalglish at Newcastle, but left after standing up to Alan Shearer and losing. Coached Feyenoord and hosts Dutch TV chat show.

Chris Waddle

Playing career included a World Cup semi-final and cult status with Tottenham and Marseilles, but at 35 he took the plunge as player-manager of Burnley in 1996 with Glenn Roeder as assistant. The club promptly avoided relegation to the fourth division by two points and Waddle left after 12 months. Now concentrates on radio and print punditry.

John Barnes

The former England player's only managerial job came with Celtic in 1999-2000, with Dalglish as director of football. Sacked after 20th game, a cup defeat by Inverness Caledonian Thistle that was rated the club's worst result in 30 years. Barnes has been linked with Jamaica's coaching role but continues to battle with the autocue as Channel Five's face of football.

Terry Butcher

By the time Butcher became player-manager on Keane's new patch in 1993, aged 34, he had managed at Premiership level. Coventry had sacked him for refusing a pay cut when long-term injury prevented his playing. After leaving Sunderland he combined broadcasting with managing Motherwell and now coaches Sydney FC in Australia.

Chris Coleman

Injuries sustained in a car crash forced Coleman to quit as Wales and Fulham defender in 2002. Within months he joined Jean Tigana's coaching staff and six months later he succeeded the Frenchman as manager. The Premiership's youngest manager, he led the London club to ninth place in his first season, their best top-flight finish, and at 35 remains in charge.

Phil Shaw