Players From The Past: Javier Margas
Popular and controversial defender Javier Margas is one of only two Chilean players in history to don the famous Claret & Blue, spending three years with West Ham United between 1998 and 2001.
In the same week that the Hammers have appointed their first-ever Chilean manager in Manuel Pellegrini, in the latest Players From The Past, we look back at the career of Margas, detailing his time in East London, which haircut made him famous at the Boleyn Ground? In which bizarre circumstances did he depart the club? And more importantly, where is he now?
The soon-to-be Chilean icon was born in the capital city of Santiago in May 1969 and grew up dreaming of becoming a professional footballing, his first professional club being hometown side Colo-Colo.
A young Margas quickly progressed through the ranks and made his debut for the first-team in 1988, his next seven years with the cub were to be the most successful of his career.
The bright defender was fortunate enough to be a part of one of the best periods in Colo’s history as they tasted success both in Chile and on the international and continental stage.
In his time with his boyhood club, split up by a short spell at Mexican team Club America, he lifted with them a staggering four Primera Division titles, and a single Copa Libertadores in 1991, a Recopa Sudamericana in the same year and a year later, a Copa Interamericana.
It was also while turning out for Colo, the defender’s International career started, a coveted one too as he appeared over 60 times for Chile from 1990 to 2000.
The pinnacle of it came in 1998 when he represented the Chilean team at the FIFA World Cup in France and impressed on the world stage, he also managed six International goals during his time as a player.
By the time of going to the famous tournament with Chile, Margas was no longer with Colo, leaving in 1997 for Universidad Catolica, a club that Pellegrini managed during his early days as a gaffer.
Vargas was hugely popular wherever he went in his homeland, thanks in part to a famous trait of dying his hair the colour of the side he played for, a feat he would repeat while later at West Ham.
His performances in France, with his nation reaching the knockout rounds, were closely followed by a manager interested in bringing the charismatic star to England and the Premier League.
This boss was Harry Redknapp at the Boleyn Ground, mid-way through his successful stint with the Irons and the signing was completed that summer, a deal worth almost £1 million.
The signing of Margas was treated with great excitement by the Claret & Blue Army, each eagerly anticipating the arrival of an International star, he would become the first player from Chile to play for West Ham.
However, the physical centre-half struggled to settle during his first season, the 1998/1999 campaign, making just three appearances in total, in defeats by Wimbledon and Leeds United, and a draw with Coventry City in the Premier League.
It became apparent that Margas had struggled greatly with home sickness during his time in East London, so much so that his wife and kids had moved back to Chile and left him in England.
Nevertheless, the brave defender soldiered on and would play out his best season at Upton Park the term after, managing to tot up 21 appearances in all competitions.
He had helped Redknapp’s team to lift the UEFA Intertoto Cup and featured in the easy rounds of the UEFA Cup, although his first red card, in an away draw with Chelsea, soon followed.
In spite of playing well and being embraced by the Hammers faithful, things still weren’t working out in Margas’ private life as he continued to battle with homesickness, missing his family in Chile.
As the 2000/2001 term began, this grew too much for Margas to be able to deal with and he returned to South America to be with his family, he never played professionally again.
The last time he appeared in West Ham colours came in a League Cup tie with Walsall at Upton Park and Redknapp, in an Interview over ten years later, revealed the circumstances surrounding his departure.
The experienced manager exposed the fact that Margas had gone AWOL, escaping through the window of his Essex hotel to make his way to the nearest airport and fly back to Santiago.
This would spell the end of his career, moving into business in his native Chile after he officially left the Hammers in 2001, in spite of never returning to East London.
Margas has since had his fingers in plenty of pies in his nation, making a reality TV appearance in a Chilean version of “The Island” and opening two hotels, in a pair of disused Boeing 737s.
The former defender has, as a result, enhanced his celebrity status in South America, partly through his infamous spending habits, buying the armoured vehicle of ex-Chile Dictator General Augusto Pinochet, among other outlandish purchases that have made the headlines in Chile.
Javier Margas is certainly one of the great enigmatic and peculiar characters to play for West Ham United, and also a cult hero in so many ways, taking pride of place among the likes of Sebastien Schemmel and Thomas Repka of the same generation, a player that was perhaps held back from Claret & Blue greatness by his homesickness and off-field problems.