LeBron, Osimhen and Kane: The masked sporting stars Kylian Mbappe can take inspiration from


After Kylian Mbappe’s nose became the major talking point of Euro 2024, he asked his followers on X for mask inspiration to speed up his return.

Mbappe received a hefty whack to his nose and was covered in blood after colliding with Kevin Danso’s shoulder in the closing stages of Monday’s 1-0 win over Austria.

France manager Didier Deschamps called it the “negative point” of the night. “His nose is not good at all,” he said.

As a nation held its collective breath, the French Football Federation revealed Mbappe would undergo treatment in the coming days, without immediately having surgery. There will be a mask made for France’s captain.

Trying to remain optimistic, Mbappe later appealed to his followers for ideas for a mask, as he looks to accelerate his return, but he is a doubt for their next group game against the Netherlands on Friday.

With Mbappe’s busted nose taking the shine off France’s opening victory, The Athletic looks at other notable examples of sporting stars who played with a mask and how they fared.


Paul Gascoigne

One of the original trendsetters, Gascoigne was fitted with a basic mask that was likened to the Phantom of the Opera after he was elbowed in the face by Netherlands player Jan Wouters in a World Cup qualifier in April 1993.

Gascoigne fractured his cheekbone and was required to play with the mask for the rest of the season for Italian club Lazio until it had healed.

He wore it on England duty, against Poland in a World Cup qualifier in Chorzow.

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Gascoigne was one of the first prominent footballers to wear a mask when he did in 1993 (Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT)

South Korea fans faced a nervous wait to see if star player Son could play in the 2022 World Cup after he fractured his eye socket in a Champions League match on the eve of the tournament.

Thankfully, the Tottenham Hotspur forward recovered in time and led South Korea to the round of 16 wearing a protective mask.

Son continued to wear the mask when he returned to Spurs after Qatar — but he revealed his frustration at having to keep it on.

He ripped off his mask while celebrating a goal against Crystal Palace, having taken it off within 20 minutes of the defeat by Aston Villa in the previous game.

“It’s not the same as when I play without the mask,” he said. “My vision is still OK, but when the ball is coming to me, it’s sometimes annoying — I can’t see the ball because of the mask.

Son Heung-Min Tottenham Palace


Son was quick to get rid of the mask (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

“Against Villa, I was really frustrated, because I received the ball and then suddenly I lost the ball — I couldn’t see it. I was just angry. If I’m alone I would play without the mask, but my parents, my family, my friends watching back in South Korea are all worried.

“It’s a risk if someone hits me again. They (my parents) didn’t say you should wear it or whatever, but we were having dinner (after the Villa game) and they said, ‘Um, what happened with the mask?’.

“The physios and doctors said after the Villa game, ‘It’s your decision, but we recommend you should still be wearing the mask’, because the risk is still high.”

Son wasn’t the only masked player at the last World Cup.

Gvardiol, the Croatia centre-back who had a standout tournament, was fitted with one after breaking his nose following a collision with his RB Leipzig team-mate Willi Orban in a Bundesliga match before the competition. Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri wore a mask that covered his nose and sides of his face after breaking his cheekbone a month before the tournament while playing for Cologne in Germany.

Victor Osimhen

The Napoli striker suffered a horrific facial injury after a clash of heads with Milan Skriniar that needed six plates and 18 screws fitted during surgery in November 2021.

He returned to Serie A two months later with a carbon-fibre mask that he continues to wear.

Napoli’s medical team said the device gives the striker a “sense of security”.

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Osimhen has kept his mask on and Napoli sell replicas (Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images)

Osimhen’s hero status in Napoli’s title-winning season in 2022-23 led to fans queuing up to buy replicas of his mask.

go-deeper

One of Kane’s most iconic moments for Tottenham came when he scored a wonderful goal against Arsenal in March 2016 while wearing a protective mask for a broken nose.

After putting Tottenham 2-1 up in the north London derby, he took off the mask and threw it on the ground as he wheeled away in celebration.

Mauricio Pochettino, Spurs’ manager, had claimed a mask was more restrictive for creative players.

He said: “He’s playing with a mask. Sometimes it can disturb you because you need to be sharp when you are offensive and creative.”

Castagne suffered a double fracture in his eye socket in the first half of Belgium’s opening match against Russia at Euro 2020, ruling him out of the tournament.

In an interview with The Athletic, his dad, Pierre, said: “I met the surgeon who told me he was lucky. The impact was absorbed by the eye socket being broken. It absorbed the shock. A little higher and the impact would have been on his brain and he could have been in a wheelchair. It could have been far worse.”

Castagne, then playing for Leicester City, was advised to wear a mask to protect the injury for the whole 2021-22 season — but he stopped in October.

The Fulham defender told The Athletic: “I remember after the first game back I was asking to take the mask off because it was annoying and the medical department said I had to keep it on for a month. My wife and family were saying I should keep wearing it for the whole season and beyond but I said, ‘No way’.”

Rudiger wore a face mask at Euro 2020 for Germany after sustaining a blow to his face during Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid in April 2021.

He was one of a string of Chelsea players — including Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Cesc Fabregas and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang — to wear a mask at the club.

Aubemeyang wore one as he recovered from a broken jaw he sustained when his house was robbed in Spain at the end of his stint playing for Barcelona.

Chelsea have typically used Ortholabsport, a specialist centre in the Italian city of Milan. Players were flown out especially to have masks moulded.

Former Chelsea defender John Terry joked about the basic mask he was made to wear, after breaking his cheekbone in 2007, compared to the more modern ones. He said: “How come my mask cost 50p and everyone else has carbon fibre?”

Lee Gregory

Sheffield Wednesday striker Gregory lost his face mask during the celebrations that followed his team’s incredible semi-final play-off victory over Peterborough United in May 2023.

He had been wearing the mask after suffering a facial injury on the final day of the regular season.

The club put out an appeal, explaining how they would be unable to replace the striker’s custom-built mask before the final against Barnsley at Wembley.

However, a fan replied to the appeal and said his father had picked up the mask on the pitch during the wild celebrations that followed their penalty shootout win, having overturned a 4-0 deficit from the first leg. It was returned to the club and Gregory started in the final.

Alanna Kennedy

Like Mbappe, Australia defender Alanna Kennedy made light of the situation when she broke her nose against New Zealand in April 2022.

When she was accidentally head-butted, Kennedy could be seen mouthing, “Oh my god” after her busted nose flashed up on the big screen.

Kennedy, who plays for Manchester City, later wrote on X:

On her return to club football, Kennedy played with a face mask.

Faye White

White returned to the England side wearing a face mask for the Euro 2009 final against Germany after dislocating and fracturing a cheekbone in the quarter-final victory over hosts Finland.

She flew back to England and was operated on by Ian Hutchison, the surgeon who operated on Terry when he fractured his cheekbone.

“I had a mask flown out to me,” she said. “Everyone said I looked like the Phantom of the Opera. I wore it around the hotel to get used to it but I think I scared a few of the other residents.”

It did not do enough to put off their opponents, as England lost the final 6-2.

After Celtic captain McGregor wore a face mask in their 3-0 victory in the Old Firm in February 2022, former Rangers striker Kris Boyd provoked controversy when he expressed surprise in a newspaper column that his former side did not “test out” the mask.

McGregor had been wearing a mask to protect a fractured cheekbone.

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McGregor’s mask caused a row with former Rangers player Boyd (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

A week later, McGregor said: “He recognises it was a poor choice of words in the beginning. We have had a chat, we move on and it’s cool.”

Boyd was adamant it was not meant to imply that he wanted Rangers players to “intentionally try and hurt the midfielder”. He said: “It was simply meant as a criticism of the Rangers players for their failure to get close to McGregor.”

Neymar

In surely one of the daftest-ever sendings off, a young Neymar was shown a second yellow card for celebrating a goal by wearing an upside-down mask of his face.

After putting Santos 3-0 up against Chilean side Colo Colo in April 2011, Neymar ran into the crowd, grabbed the mask from a fan and returned to the pitch wearing it.

Uruguayan referee Roberto Silvera did not see the funny side and gave him a second yellow.

Facundo Sava

Sava became a cult hero at Fulham for his celebration when he pulled a mask from his sock and put it on whenever he scored (which, in truth, wasn’t that often…)

His trademark celebration began when he scored for former club Gimnasia La Plata in their local derby against Estudiantes.

He ended up receiving 250 masks from fans in Argentina but only brought one to England with him.

Raul Jimenez carried on with this theme when he celebrated putting Wolverhampton Wanderers 2-0 up in the 2019 FA Cup semi-final against Watford by sporting a wrestling mask.

Wolves went on to lose the game 3-2 and Jimenez was called out by Troy Deeney who labelled him “disrespectful” for the celebration.

They have not only been worn in football…

LeBron James

In the NBA, James wore a black carbon-fibre mask to protect his broken nose while playing for the Miami Heat in 2014.

His mask proved popular — James and several team-mates posted pictures with it after their match against the New York Knicks on social media.

The Miami Heat then started selling T-shirts with a masked James on them. “Only LeBron can make breaking your nose look cool,” team-mate Shane Battier said.

However, the ‘Batman’ mask was shortlived as, after the match, the NBA asked that James switch from a black mask to a more traditional clear one.

(Top photos: Getty Images)





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