New lease of life for Singapore defender Baihakki
Veteran defender Baihakki goes from brink of retirement to international recall
At the end of last year, Baihakki Khaizan braced himself for the worst.
Out of contract, the defender was already exploring career options outside of football, even taking up a real estate course as he considered a career as a property agent.
But, just as he thought he was at the end of his football journey, Baihakki unexpectedly found a new lease of life with Thai League 2 side Udon Thani FC.
It was to get even better for the 34-year-old. Last week, he earned a recall to the Singapore national squad, two years after his last Lions appearance in the 2016 AFF Suzuki Cup.
It was a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for a player who admitted that he was close to hanging up his boots a few months ago.
The former Warriors player told The New Paper before his first training session since rejoining the national team yesterday: "To be honest, I thought my career was going down. Not that it was in a bad state after the season, but I thought it was the finishing line.
"I didn't think there would be 'extra-time' for me in football, or even a chance for me to prolong my playing time."
His breakthrough came almost by chance.
Because he was leaving for Mecca with his family to perform his pilgrimage, his agent arranged for a six-day trial with Saudi Arabian side Jeddah Club.
He said: "Before I left (for Mecca), not a single soul called me (with an offer). So I was about 99.9 per cent sure Jeddah would not sign me, because what are the odds, right?
"I took it easy, did my thing, and I really didn't expect the offer to come in on the very last day before I departed to Singapore."
Despite the possibility of being the first ever Singaporean to play in the Middle East, Baihakki mulled over the four-month contract offer - with a possibility of extension - from Jeddah.
That was when other clubs came knocking.
First, it was Malaysian Super League side Kuala Lumpur FA, which he came close to signing for, before Thai giants Muangthong United placed another offer on the table.
Baihakki said: "From thinking of other ways to support my children and family, there were suddenly so many offers from different clubs, and the choices were getting difficult.
"It was really a blessing in disguise, but I had to sit down and really think through what would be the best for me and my family in the long run.
"Some offers had good money, but my football career could just fade soon."
Baihakki eventually put pen to paper on a one-year deal with Muangthong, and has since joined T2 side Udon Thani FC on loan.
Having plied his trade in Indonesia - with Persija Jakarta, Persib Bandung and Medan Chiefs - and Malaysia's Johor Darul Ta'zim (I and II) before, Baihakki is thrilled to have been given the opportunity to prove himself once again.
He started in all six games with Udon Thani since the T2 season started, playing the full 90 minutes each game. He has even bagged his debut goal - a header from a set-piece against Thai Honda FC.
Singapore coach V. Sundramoorthy said: "Baihakki has come back to the national team based on his performance and merit in the Thai league.
"At his age, experience plays a big part. Especially now since he's in a foreign league, it will definitely benefit the national team."
Now that he is back with the Lions, Baihakki is eager to show the team what they have been missing.
Singapore play Maldives in a friendly at the National Stadium on Friday.
He said: "It's definitely a privilege to play for the national team, because that's what every footballer wants to do.
"It's time to show what I've been working on and fight for my place to help the team."