Monaco has a special place to honor excellence in football and this place is otherwise known as the Champions Promenade.
A leisurely walk around Grimaldi Forum in Monaco takes you across a long path of imprints of bare feet. This is a surprising sight for a tourist, but the locals would immediately recognize their Champions Promenade. Just like in Hollywood, this is where celebrities leave imprints of their feet. But not just any star can enter the Monegasque Walk of Fame. It was created exclusively for outstanding football professionals, winners of a special award.
The annual International Golden Foot Award was established in 2003. It encourages players over 28 years old who have made a significant contribution to the history of football and achieved a remarkable career. Players who are considered as an example on the football field can also be nominees for the award. The idea came from the Tourism Development Company, supported by avid football fan Prince Albert II.
The winner is selected by the votes of football fans, a process available on the Golden Foot website. They can choose their favourite out of 10 players selected by a jury of journalists and the Golden Foot Commission. Each player is entitled to receive the award only once in his lifetime.
Apart from the award, the players can receive the title of the “Football Legend”. These players can also leave their imprint on the Champions Promenade. Only the most honoured players who have won many awards can become “Football legends”. It would be unfair to award just one prize: different clubs in each country have many good players. As a rule, a special commission recognizes football veterans who have long finished their football careers.
Roberto Baggio, an Italian footballer who played for the Brescia club, was the first recipient of the award in 2003. The online voting carried out by FIFA in 2000 placed Baggio the 4th in the list of the best 20th century players (after Maradona, Pelé and Eusébio). However, he is recognized not only for his football merits. After leaving football, he became highly involved with charity projects. Since 2002 Roberto has been a Goodwill Ambassador of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, whose main objective is to fight against hunger in the world.
Pavel Nedvěd, a Juventus player, was the next to leave his imprint on the Walk of Fame. Nedvěd secured himself the title of the best player in the history of the Czech Republic. His fans had nicknamed him “Czech Fury” for his remarkable endurance.
In 2005, Andriy Shevchenko became the first and only Ukrainian footballer to be awarded the Golden Foot. However, this Walk of Fame now bears the names of his other compatriots, Igor Belanova and Oleg Blokhin, who won the “Football Legend” title, alongside such big names as Ronaldo, Francesco Totti, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldinho, Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
The other “Football Legends” who have left their mark on the Walk of Fame in Monaco, are Diego Maradona, Pelé, Gianni Rivera, Luigi Riva, Raymond Kopa, Zinedine Zidane, Hugo Sanchez, Rinat Dasaev who was a Soviet footballer and one of the best goalkeepers in the world in the 1980s, and many others.
The organizers keep the winner’s name a secret until the very last minute. Even the journalists accredited for the Golden Foot ceremony only learn the name of the happy award recipient at the moment it is announced on the stage. The voting results can sometimes change drastically in one day.
That’s what happened to Ronaldinho, who snatched the victory from his rivals on the very last day of voting. The thing is, the outcome of the Internet vote all depends on the number of fans who take the trouble of spending an extra 5-7 minutes on the Golden Foot site and voting for their favourite. But not everybody gives it credit. The online voting does not seem to be so serious and some people forget about it. In the mean time, the winners not only leave their imprint on the Walk of Champions in Monaco, they also receive a prize made out of pure gold. According to the organizers, in 2011 Manchester United fans became very active in the last few days before the final vote and secured the victory for Ryan Giggs.
Last year, a Uruguayan professional footballer, who plays as a striker for Paris Saint-Germain, Edinson Cavani secured the prestigious Golden Foot award. Leonardo Araujo (Brazil), Clarence Seedorf (Dutch), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Marcello Lippi (Italy), Didier Deschamps (France) were the “Football Legends” in 2018. Among the legends that will be awarded this year in Monte Carlo comes the first confirmation from the Portuguese coach and former footballer José Mourinho.
Some of you may ask: how can they cast an imprint of somebody’s feet if the name of the winner is not known until the last moment? After all, even the players themselves learn it on the day of the ceremony. Everything is very simple: the winner gets his bare feet cast in clay right there at the ceremony. Later on, these are cast in bronze and set on the Champions Promenade while the winner goes home with a golden imprint of his foot.
The award ceremony is always held in the most beautiful locations in Monaco. The Prince of Monaco Albert II usually announce the winner and present the award himself. Each year the event is scheduled for early October, so you still have time to vote for your favourite player on the Golden Foot award website.
So next time you are strolling near the Grimaldi Forum, you can spot the feet of your favourite football players honoured by Monaco on the Champions Promenade.