Nearly 20 years on, former Hammers boss Harry Redknapp has told the story to Betsafe, revealing how the deal came about in the first place and what triggered Margas' legendary and successful attempt at a great escape.
"I signed Javier Margas, he was the captain of Chile. I went to watch him play in the (1998) World Cup, he was fantastic, I went to see him play at Wembley (against England in 1998), he was the best player on the pitch, I thought, and we took him to West Ham," the 70-year-old explained as he recalled his first impressions of the centre-back.
Margas, who was instantly recognisable from his colourful hair, struggled to settle, though, and was probably wondering what he'd let himself in for when he was left stranded in the middle of nowhere while trying to get to his first day of training.
"It was very different in those days. We didn't have anyone to really take care of the foreign players. They came in and we just let them get on with it," Redknapp continued.
"We gave him a car and a house. Someone showed him the training ground, next day he set off for training and instead of coming to Chadwell Heath he ended up a Stansted Airport which is about 40 miles the wrong way, got a puncture in a country lane, I mean, what a nightmare!"
Margas ultimately played over 20 times in the Premier League for West Ham, but it all came to a very abrupt end when he suddenly disappeared without word.
"He started playing, would have been a good player, but his wife hated [living in England]. She had a big family back home, she was crying, and suddenly [Margas] didn't show up for training one day," Harry revealed.
"Someone said his wife had gone home and he was staying at a hotel. So we went round there to see him and someone said they had a feeling he might be going home. I said 'he can't, he's got a contract here, we've bought him.'
"[The hotel staff] said that he was in the room because he'd come to get his key. I asked them to ring him, no answer. We were knocking on the door, went back to reception, came back with a key, we went in the room and he'd left half his gear there, the window was open.
"He'd obviously taken what he needed - his passport - jumped out of the window, legged it up towards the motorway somewhere and we never saw him again. He went back to Chile and then was the end of his career at West Ham.
"Half his gear was still in the room, suits and clothes and all sorts, but he'd made his mind up that he didn't want to stay and his wife wouldn't come back."
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