As he edged towards the dugout 17 minutes from time, the first player of the modern era to make his Champions League debut in the final itself offered a glance up at the banks of blue behind Bayern Munich's goal. If he was still pinching himself as to whether all this was real, the chorus of "one Ryan Bertrand" which thundered out supplied a wakeup call. This game was goalless and still on edge at the time. It would be won on penalties in his absence.

Bertrand's impact may not have been as eye-catching as others', but history had always hinted his involvement here might end gloriously. Finals of this competition revolving around Munich have tended to serve up romantic story-lines for English debutants. Back in 1979 Trevor Francis had made his European bow in the city's Olympic Stadium and plucked Nottingham Forest's winner against Malmo.

Three years later, Aston Villa's rookie goalkeeper Nigel Spink was summoned from the bench after 10 minutes to replace the injured Jimmy Rimmer. Spink had made only one previous appearance in the first team but went on to excel, keep a clean sheet as Villa beat Bayern 1-0. The Chelsea player's success here was in frustrating the Bundesliga team through most of normal time until it was deemed his job was done. He spent the rest of his night biting his nails on the bench before the celebrations erupted at the end. A year ago he had one Chelsea appearance to his name. On Sunday morning, if he has slept at all, he will awake with a European Cup winner's medal draped round his neck.

This whole experience must have felt like a blur. The youngster had crossed himself as he strode on to the turf while the fanfare roared all around, then made a point of looking every one of Bayern's players in the eye as he clapped hands in the pre-match lineup. There was no hint of nerves from afar, as if the 22-year-old belonged. Any apprehension was presumably eased by a first touch six minutes in, an awkward header that found a team-mate, and the eager leap to suffocate an Arjen Robben volley just after the quarter-hour mark. Ashley Cole, with whom the combinations had to thrive, was always quick to offer bellowed encouragement. The England left-back's presence and performance must have felt inspirational.

This was an occasion for Bertrand's family and Chelsea's scouting and academy departments to cherish, but the club who had first developed the Southwark-born full-back should not be forgotten. Gillingham had signed him as a nine-year-old and invested time and money in developing his talent within their own youth setup before, in 2005, the Premier League had come tempting. The Kent side believed their 15-year-old prospect was to sign scholarship terms with them, only for Bertrand to end up agreeing a similar deal with the Londoners. Chelsea had done nothing wrong, but the rancour was inevitable.

The fee proposed, a £25,000 down payment with another £25,000 to be paid six months later, was rejected by the Gillingham chairman, Paul Scally, only for an independent tribunal to set a deal at an initial £125,000, with £100,000 due for every 10 league appearances made thereafter up to 40 games. The bonus clauses had not made mention of European reward, with the whole episode still cause of simmering resentment at the Priestfield stadium.

"It's sad to say it, but it's symptomatic of the rape of smaller clubs' youth systems by those in the Premier League," said Scally on Saturday night. "Chelsea stole him from us, taking us to a tribunal, and we ended up getting peanuts in compensation. It's the Premier League clubs riding roughshod over the Football League. Given the millions that club have, it wouldn't have been a hardship for them to have paid a proper fee.

"But I bear no grudge towards the player. It's more the system that was wrong. Seeing him playing in a European Cup final makes us, as a club, very proud. This is a kid who came through the Gillingham youth system, and his progress is testimony to the hard work put in by everyone at our club's academy. From very early on, you could see he was a special talent."

He was industrious and efficient here, a nuisance helping to thwart Bayern at one end and offering flickers of threat at the other. It is remarkable to consider he had not even made Chelsea's European squad list for the first half of the season, the loan spells enjoyed at Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading and, last season, Nottingham Forest, having left him considered an "association developed" player.

He had stifled Theo Walcott impressively at the Emirates stadium recently, but confronting a World Cup finalist in Robben, and the Germany captain Philipp Lahm, in an unfamiliar advanced position on European football's most glittering night represented a real step into the unknown. He deserved huge credit for the composure displayed throughout; this experience will stick with him for the rest of his life.