Winners celebrate, losers move on. The talk around the defeated Cardiff City contingent at Wembley was of looking forward, to next season and to launching an assault on the Premier League. After years of drifting around the lower divisions Cardiff have, in the past five seasons, become more established in the second tier than for a quarter of a century. Now, with a new stadium under construction and the immediate threat of bankruptcy lifted after a High Court verdict in their favour, City are dreaming of a return to the elite for the first time since 1962.
"The next stage is for us to grow, and if we don't then people running the club need shooting," said Dave Jones, the Cardiff manager. That, he added, meant significant investment in players. "It gets harder and harder to compete in our own division, there's been no money for the last few years but, hopefully, we can use this as a springboard and kick on," he said.
"We have a new stadium, a new training ground, the nucleus of a good squad. We need three to four players but we are not national now, we are global, and I hope reaching the FA Cup final will attract players who may not have thought of us before."
The Championship will be a tough division next season. The relegated trio are expected to spend, as will Sheffield United and Charlton, who each have an £11m parachute payment remaining following their relegation last year. QPR's billionaire owners are already recruiting, while it is hard to imagine Southampton and Coventry being so abysmal again. Wolves, Ipswich, Crystal Palace and Watford will be in the mix, while the promoted clubs, Swansea, Nottingham Forest and possibly Leeds United, are better resourced than usual.
And yet, Stoke City went up this season despite breaking even on transfers. The play-off finalists, Bristol City and Hull City, had a net spend of just £2.25m and £1m respectively. So it is not just about money.
Jones' main aim must be to stop selling players. Cameron Jerome, Chris Gunter and Michael Chopra have all gone in the last two years, reaping £10m but undercutting his promotion ambitions. The club's resolve will next be tested by suitors for Joe Ledley and Aaron Ramsey, local lads of 21 and 17 years of age respectively.
Cardiff have already turned down a £3m bid from Everton for Ledley and, after a performance which had Jones purring, more offers can be expected for the midfielder.
Of next season Ledley initially said: "We felt we were the better team overall [against Portsmouth]. That has to give us confidence for next season when the priority will be to mount a promotion challenge."
But when asked whether he would be a Cardiff player next season he said: "That's not just down to me. All I've been thinking about is playing for my hometown team in a Cup final, nothing else."
Of Ramsey, Jones said, "We think we have a very special talent in Aaron. We've brought him on and, hopefully, his future will be with this club. If we are to keep him we need to get into the Premier League."
Stephen McPhail, who played in the top flight with Leeds, has no doubts about Cardiff's potential. "This club is definitely going forward, and the foundations are there for us to be a Premier League team," he said. "Cardiff is a big city and you could see today that the potential fan base is massive.
"Hopefully, the money from this Cup run will help us strengthen the squad. We are a small squad and we need another five or six players to be promotion candidates. But the spirit in the camp is great, and we will be aiming for a strong showing in the league."
Cardiff, who finished six points off the play-offs, having taken only eight points out of 18 after winning the FA Cup semi-final, will have done well financially from the Cup run. They earned £1.4m in prize-money, another £450,000 in broadcast fees, and several hundred thousand pounds more from gate receipts and merchandising. The total could match their usual annual income.
All is not rosy, however. Cardiff still owe a reported £24m to Langston, a Panamanian firm with a Swiss contact address with which Sam Hammam, the former Cardiff owner, is heavily involved. Cardiff claim the debt is not due to be paid until 2016, Langston wants it repaid now. In March the High Court deferred the matter for two months, instructing the pair to negotiate. If an amicable deal is not reached, further court action is likely.
Should Cardiff be promoted Langston would be due another £5m but Cardiff would pay that willingly. Promotion to the Premier League is ultimately worth an estimated £100m, according to one Stoke source this week. That would clear the debt almost overnight.Reuse content