Harry Redknapp never got his wish for a quiet FA Cup celebration. He said that he wanted to get away from Wembley as soon as was polite and head home with his wife, Sandra, to the little Italian restaurant around the corner from his house. A bottle of red and an early night was the plan for the most triumphant day of his football career, but in the end circumstances intervened.
Reliable witnesses say Redknapp was up until 2am at the team's hotel in Windsor, something of a record for the determinedly low-key Portsmouth manager, according to those who know him best. At 61, he is a very reluctant hero. There was no celebratory jig, Sir Alex Ferguson-style, at the final whistle; no emotional set piece with the grandchildren on the pitch and absolutely no tears. On the day when Redknapp finally won the trophy that seals his reputation as a manager of the highest quality, he chose to keep the emotions locked tightly away.
"Relief" was the word Redknapp used to describe his state of mind. If you wanted drama and triumph against the odds, then that came against Manchester United at Old Trafford in March, the game that this Portsmouth Cup run will be remembered for above all. Saturday was about getting the job done against a spirited Cardiff side who were badly limited in attack. Afterwards the anxiety was evident in Redknapp, who was perhaps still reliving that 94th-minute shot from Cardiff's Roger Johnson that Glen Johnson only just got across to block.
First of all, he wanted to tackle the story that this FA Cup victory will be a sweet swansong before he heads off to a retirement on the best fairways of Hampshire and Dorset. "There's no way I'm going to pack up, that has never entered my mind," he said. "Never, ever and that's the God's honest truth. Why should I pack up? I love the job. I don't know what I'd do without football. It's the only thing that interests me in life."
He does not count himself the type to let loose with his emotions – "It takes a lot to get me excited" – and anyway, with the death of his wife's sister Pat, the mother of Frank Lampard, it has been a difficult time for his family. Not that Redknapp was mawkish about it: in fact, he said with a sigh that, yes, "it happens to every family at some time". It just seemed that when, finally, Redknapp had his moment – when he could leave behind that tired old typecast of the East End market trader – it caught him by surprise. He was newly ennobled into the elite of football management, but the good news had not quite sunk in.
Redknapp and Portsmouth have some story together: he took over from Graham Rix in 2002 and prevented them from dropping out of the Championship; he then returned in 2005 and kept them in the Premier League. Yes, he has had money to spend, but so too over the last decade have Newcastle, Tottenham, Middlesbrough, Manchester City and West Ham, to name, but a few and none of them has an FA Cup to show for the investment. All of which puts in perspective the remarkable achievements of Henry James Redknapp.
He has rescued Portsmouth from the tragedy of the Premier League's midtable clubs – teams such as Newcastle and West Ham – who pursue mediocrity every season at an astonishing cost, lavishing fees and wages on the flotsam of players not good enough for the top four. Redknapp shops in the same market but acquires better players. Nowhere was that more evident on Saturday than in the back three of David James, Sol Campbell and Sylvain Distin – all three of them crucial and the Frenchman outstanding.
Redknapp likes to back his judgement. "I couldn't tell who rang me when I took David James," Redknapp said, "Believe me, I had a few phone calls, asking: 'Are you mad?' Sol Campbell was the same. People saying, 'He's finished, what you doing taking him? You must be off your head.' But they've all done great. Hermann [Hreidarsson] holds the world record for getting relegated. I thought: 'Oh my God!' But Hermann's been great."
The same goes for his match-winner Nwankwo Kanu too, the footballer for whom age is just a number to be guessed at. "I just thought he had great ability," Redknapp said. "He still had something to offer. He's proved me right." How old is Kanu? "About 47," Redknapp said – in jest. "He's in there now saying: 'Gaffer, you give me a three-year contract.' I said we'd talk about it on Monday."
Redknapp has made Portsmouth an attractive club to join for good footballers, which is half the battle for mid-table clubs. He jokes that he shows potential signings around Southampton's training ground, but that should change soon with a new training ground and stadium at Portsmouth. Yesterday he mentioned he would like to bring in a few younger players. It has not been his way in the past, but Redknapp is no different to Ferguson or Arsène Wenger in that respect.
He won this game the way Portsmouth have won every FA Cup tie this season, by a single-goal margin and a rigorously tight defence. A mistake by Cardiff's goalkeeper Peter Enckelman on 37 minutes – reminiscent of the two handling errors made by Portsmouth old-boy Peter Mellor for Fulham against West Ham in the 1975 FA Cup final – allowed Kanu a simple tap-in. He had hit the post earlier after a brilliant turn that was the game's moment of outstanding quality.
Cardiff did not embarrass themselves and Joe Ledley gave a performance that suggested he will be in the Premier League next season. Aaron Ramsey, the 17-year-old who is being tracked by Manchester United and Liverpool was given 30 minutes as a substitute and looked good, although not quite the new Steven Gerrard yet. Ramsey will undoubtedly end up with one of the big four, although he might think now that a stint with Redknapp at Portsmouth would not be a bad staging post in his football education.
Goal: Kanu (37) 0-1.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Enckelman; McNaughton, Johnson, Loovens, Capaldi; Ledley, Rae (Sinclair, 87) McPhail, Whittingham (Ramsey, 62); Parry, Hasselbaink (Thompson, 71). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Purse.
Portsmouth (4-1-4-1): James; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Mendes (Bouba Diop, 78); Utaka (Nugent, 69), Diarra, Muntari, Kranjcar; Kanu (Baros, 87). Substitutes not used: Ashdown (gk), Pamarot.
Booked: Portsmouth Hreidarsson, Kranjcar, Diarra.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral).
Man of the match: Distin.
Portsmouth's route to the Cup
Ipswich 0 Portsmouth 1
Portsmouth 2 Plymouth 1
Preston 0 Portsmouth 1
Man Utd 0 Portsmouth 1
Portsmouth 1 West Bromwich 0
Portsmouth 1 Cardiff 0
*DAVID JAMES 7/10
Early dash from goal hinted at calamity but he foiled Parry. Spread confidence with his presence and handling.
GLEN JOHNSON 6
Caused problems offensively, but was himself troubled by the clever movement of Parry and Ledley.
SOL CAMPBELL 6
Parry's early sharpness asked the question, "How many years are left?" Recovered his poise in second period.
SYLVAIN DISTIN 8
He will have had tougher days, but barely put a foot wrong in dealing with the limited threat Cardiff posed.
HERMANN HREIDARSSON 7
A solid, occasionally adventurous performance in his first final, at 33. Played on despite fractured cheekbone.
JOHN UTAKA 5
Created the goal but did little else. The talent is there, but is the drive? Though he is just back from injury.
LASSANA DIARRA 8
Dynamic with and without the ball, but too often he ran into traffic. It was clear, though, his signing is a coup.
PEDRO MENDES 7
Given the deep midfield role with the quarterback brief of Pirlo. Played conservatively, but tidily.
SULLEY MUNTARI 6
Relatively quiet by the Ghanaian's standards, no shots and no cards, but a steadying influence.
NIKO KRANJCAR 7
Cardiff were alert to his shooting potential, but could do nothing to prevent his mastery of possession.
Nwankwo KANU 7
Wonderful skill before hitting the post, and quick thinking for the goal. Always available to link the play.
DAVID NUGENT (for Utaka, 69) 6: Sharp shot suggested his confidence is returning; PAPA BOUBA DIOP (for Mendes, 78): Introduced to stiffen the midfield; MILAN BAROS (for Kanu, 87): On to threaten a speedy counter-attack.
*PETER ENCKELMAN 4/10
Utaka's cross was at a difficult height, but it was catchable and the on-loan goalkeeper had already given his defenders cause for concern.
*KEVIN McNAUGHTON 7
Suffered from cramp in the closing stages, hardly surprising given the running he did, including a lung-busting effort to reach a Parry cross.
ROGER JOHNSON 8
Easy to see why he is coveted. Commanding in defence and a threat in attack. His performance was a rebuke to Tony Adams' judgement.
GLENN LOOVENS 7
Turned too easily by Kanu before the striker hit the post, but otherwise solid and might have had a well-taken goal with a less sharp-eyed referee.
TONY CAPALDI 5
A menace with his long throws but looked uncomfortable defensively even before Utaka was allowed to deliver the crucial cross.
PETER WHITTINGHAM 6
A surprise when he was withdrawn. Some clever passing, but never stretched Hreidarsson.
GAVIN RAE 6
Struggled due to Pompey's numerical advantage in central midfield, but only Steven Gerrard would not have.
STEPHEN McPHAIL 5
A couple of telling passes highlighted his quality, but he drifted in and out of the game and became anonymous.
JOE LEDLEY 7
Demonstrated evident promise with some fine passing and strong running, but faded as his energy drained.
PAUL PARRY 6
Troubled Campbell, getting behind the defender, but seemed intimidated by James and missed fine chances.
JIMMY FLOYD HASSELBAINK 5
A willing target but never threatened James. It was no surprise when, with his legs gone, he was replaced.
AARON RAMSEY (for Whittingham, 61) 6:
Obvious potential but while he pepped up Cardiff he could not seize the moment; STEVEN THOMPSON (for Hasselbaink, 70) 5: On to give a physical presence but the shot at glory eluded him; TREVOR SINCLAIR (for Rae, 86): Late arrival to allow Ramsey to move inside.