Neil Warnock felt Emiliano Sala was "with" his Cardiff City team as they beat Bournemouth.
Bobby Reid's two goals saw Warnock's team secure a 2-0 victory in their first home game since record-signing Sala's plane disappeared from radar over the English Channel.
Warnock was tearful as he saluted the crowd at the end of an emotional night at the Cardiff City Stadium.
"I'm really proud and I'm sure he would have been," he said.
"Knowing the lad, Emiliano, as I did, I knew he would be with us today.
- Cardiff win as they pay tribute to Sala
- Cardiff fans pay tribute to Sala
- Search plan for Sala's missing plane
"I said to the lads 'We have got to perform'. I thought the whole club was amazing.
"I was really pleased for the chairman, Mehmet (Dalman), and for (chief executive) Ken Choo.
"I was the proudest man to be manager of the whole football club today. The fans were just amazing."
There were tributes to Sala before and during the match, with Cardiff's fans singing the striker's name for long periods in the closing stages.
The 28-year-old Argentine signed for the club from Nantes in a £15m deal on 19 January.
Two days later, the plane carrying Sala and pilot Dave Ibbotson from France to South Wales disappeared near Guernsey.
An underwater search begins on Sunday.
"I just felt today really immense pride," Warnock added.
"We had to show everybody our support for him (Sala). We've done him proud, I thought.
"I was very emotional. I was all right until the final whistle went and I went on the pitch.
"The last 10 days or whatever it is, I can't begin to explain to you how difficult it has been.
"Every fan stayed and the noise volume was amazing. I've never seen or heard anything like it and I will remember it for the rest of my life really."
Cardiff remain in the relegation zone despite chalking up a first victory in five Premier League games, but they are within two points of 17th-placed Burnley.
Forward Bobby Reid scored both goals, a penalty after five minutes while his second came just 15 seconds into the second half.
"I am delighted to get the win - it will make clubs around us nervous," Warnock said.
"The last two performances have been the best we've produced all season.
"We don't really know when we are beaten. I can't be more proud.
"If we don't get another point this year, I think we've been amazing. I couldn't ask more from any of the players."