Blow for Baihakki
Singapore star can rejoin LionsXII only if he terminates JDT contract
It was a mouth-watering prospect, perhaps even the proverbial final piece of the puzzle.
South of the Causeway, there were many looking forward to Baihakki Khaizan rejoining Malaysian Super League (MSL) champions the LionsXII on loan, after Johor Darul Ta'zim's (JDT) move to de-register him from their squad.
But that is now highly unlikely.
The Football Association of Malaysia (FAM) has ruled that for the 30-year-old to don the colours of the Singapore side participating in Malaysian domestic competitions, his contract with JDT has to be terminated first.
Speaking to The New Paper yesterday, FAM competitions committee chairman Affandi Hamzah said: "The rule is that foreign players are not allowed to change teams in the same season, but we have considered the application because Baihakki is considered a local player with the LionsXII.
"But if his contract with JDT still exists, he will be still be considered a foreign player and he will be allowed to go back to the LionsXII only if he can come to an agreement with JDT to mutually terminate (his existing) contract."
Baihakki is into the first year of a $30,000 per month four-year deal he signed with JDT at the end of last season.
Affandi clarified that the FAM has no issue if he plays in a foreign league like the Great Eastern Yeo's S.League, and it has given the Singapore international one week (from yesterday) to make a decision.
After patchy form in the MSL, JDT moved to rejuvenate their squad by de-registering two of their foreign signings - former Argentinian star Pablo Aimar and Baihakki.
While Aimar's future remains uncertain, Baihakki will be forced to sit out the rest of the season if he stays at JDT, and is being lined up for Johor's second-tier side JDT II next year, when he will join Singapore captain Shahril Ishak.
"I respect the terms of the FAM's decision. My main concern is about staying fit and getting playing time in competitive fixtures at a good level with the AFF Suzuki Cup in mind," said Baihakki.
The Suzuki Cup, South-east Asia's biggest and most prestigious international football tournament, is scheduled for the end of the year, with Singapore looking to defend the title they won in December 2012.
The lack of competitive games for Baihakki, one of the Republic's defensive linchpins and a key figure in the LionsXII's successful run to the MSL crown last year, could pose a massive problem for national coach Bernd Stange.
Teo Hock Seng, the chairman of defending S.League champions Tampines Rovers told The New Paper in an earlier interview that he would be "happy to" sign Baihakki, if the player was affordable.
While coach Fandi Ahmad would love to have Baihakki back with the LionsXII, especially with the defence struggling to be as sturdy as last year, a return to the S.League is an option that the player will seriously consider.
He last featured in the S.League in 2009 when he turned out for Geylang United.
"It is an honour that a man like Teo has recognised my ability for his championship-winning team, but I will first have to consult Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Ibrahim (president of the Johor Football Association) and seek his opinion before coming to any decision," said Baihakki.
"As for now, I keep to a daily routine of running, gym work, and kickabouts with my son."