Chelsea's players united in praise of Roberto di Matteo after securing the club's fourth FA Cup in six years, with their targets now fixed upon adding a first European Cup to their season's haul in Munich later this month.
Goals from Ramires and Didier Drogba, his eighth in this arena, secured the trophy despite Liverpool's late rally. The £35m substitute Andy Carroll pulled back one for Kenny Dalglish's side and came close to hauling the Merseysiders level eight minutes from time when Petr Cech palmed his header on to the underside of the bar with the striker claiming it had crossed the line. Yet Chelsea held on to extend Di Matteo's remarkable record since assuming the reins on a temporary basis from André Villas-Boas.
The Italian has now won this trophy twice as a player and once as a manager for the club, with his players rejoicing in the confidence he has instilled in them. "This is what we live for," said John Terry, who became the first captain to lift the FA Cup four times with the same club. "At times people have slated us as being too old, past it or not together as a squad, but as a team we come together and unite when our backs are against the wall.
"We've done that superbly in the last 16 or 17 games under the manager. We've done Robbie the world of good with this win, and it can do him no harm [in his efforts to secure the position on a permanent basis]. We've still got a massive trophy, the Champions League, to come and that's been the target for the owner [Roman Abramovich] from day dot. That's the priority now."
Terry will miss the final in Munich through suspension, as will three other players, though this was evidence that others in Chelsea ranks, and Drogba principal among them, can revel on the most glamorous of occasions. The striker has now scored in four FA Cup finals, winning them all, though he was quick to stress this was merely "the first step" of what he hopes will be a cup double.
"Didier is my hero," said Frank Lampard. "No striker scores so many important goals in finals. As for the manager, Roberto deserves everything. He's turned the club around."
The Italian paid tribute to Villas-Boas, who was sacked in the first week of March with the team struggling in the Premier League and dissent welling in the ranks, and refused to consider his chances of securing the position full-time. "AVB should get some credit for this victory as well because he started our run in the FA Cup," he said of the Portuguese, who was appointed last summer. "But I'm very happy for the players. We've had a difficult season and a lot of criticism, but the players responded today to all the adversity we've faced this season.
"I don't think many people have the opportunity I've had. I'm fortunate enough to have been able to play for this club and win the trophy, and now I've been able to lead the team out today and win the trophy as a coach. It is special. It doesn't happen too often. But the players did really, really well today. I'm very happy with them.
"As for my own chances [of securing the position from Abramovich], it's totally irrelevant as it was eight weeks ago. I'm very pleased with my position until the end of the season, and then the boss will make his decision which is best for the club, and we'll all respect it. I'll speak to him, don't worry. I do speak to him."
Support is growing within Chelsea ranks for him to claim the role, with this silverware adding to his reputation even if this side has grown used to triumphing in this competition in recent years. Ashley Cole has now claimed seven FA Cups, more than only Manchester United, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, while Cech's four trophies are the most by a goalkeeper.
The Czech's reaction save from Carroll took the breath. "I don't think it was over the line," the goalkeeper said. "If the ball was behind the line I couldn't have kept it out.
"But it's fantastic what we've achieved and still have one more final to go, so hopefully we can make it two. I've won it for the fourth time and it doesn't matter how many times you win it the atmosphere is always the same."