After 28 months in Thailand, one of Singapore’s best defenders ever is hoping to finally lift a league title in Singapore, and inspire future generations of local players.
Baihakki Khaizan, who has spent the last few years playing in Thailand, is returning to the Singapore Premier League after signing with Tampines Rovers for the rest of the 2020 season.
And he is playing for free.
The 36-year-old left Thai League 1 club PT Prachuap in April, ending a 28-month stint in Thailand, in which he became the first Singapore to score in Thai League football while playing for Udon Thani.
"After the mutual agreement to end my contract at Prachuap, there were a few offers from T1 and T2 (Thai League 1 and Thai League 2) clubs but I only had one thing on my mind and that was to return to Singapore," said Baihakki, who said that he wanted to put his family as a priority after being away from them for years.
"I really enjoyed my stint in Thailand, especially since it came at a late stage in my career. I managed to rise up to the challenge and I'm very delighted with my time there.
"My wife has been coping with the three kids during the home-based learning period… and I wanted to come back, be with them and do my duties as a father. So when I returned, I was prepared to go jobless for 2020 due to the COVID-19 situation."
But things moved quickly after his apparel sponsor Ryudben Sports struck up a conversation with Tampines chairman Desmond Ong. Baihakki added that Tampines' sincerity impressed him.
"For a club to be willing to commit to signing me for this season and even 2021, I saw the sincerity and it was never about money from that point onward. I was agreeable to play for the Stags this season without a salary, only taking match bonuses. I cannot wait to get started," he said.
Baihakki (left) with a representative from Ryudben Sports in a photo taken before the COVID-19 outbreak.
PHOTO CREDIT: BAIHAKKI KHAIZAN
Baihakki, who has represented the Singapore national team 137 times, has also turned out for top clubs in Indonesia and Malaysia. He last played for a Singapore club in 2017, with Warriors FC.
But for all his achievements in his career, which include helping the Lions to win three Asean Football Federation Suzuki Cups, he hasn't lifted the league title in Singapore. The towering defender said that played a part in his decision to link up with the Stags.
"I haven't won a title in Singapore before and I think Tampines are one of the potential teams to win the league, so I hope with my presence we can win this together. Obviously it will be a nice achievement if we can lift the trophy," said Baihakki.
"Thank you to Tampines Rovers for showing interest in me although the (Covid-19) situation now is very uncertain, and for still believing in my capabilities to be in the team."
Of course, while Baihakki might be stepping into a new environment, there will be plenty of familiar faces around. He has played with the likes of Daniel Bennett, Irwan Shah, Madhu Mohana during his time with either the Singapore National Team or LionsXII.
He added that he is excited to link up with them, as well as the "exciting young players" at the club and Tampines head coach Gavin Lee.
"Tampines have a great coach in Gavin. Looking at what he has done in the past few years, I couldn't agree more that Tampines is one of the exciting teams to watch, with the free-flow attacking, possession-based game they are playing right now," said Baihakki.
"There are a lot of very exciting young players in the team too. When they were in Bangkok earlier this year for pre-season training I caught some of their games. I've got to say that Gavin and the technical staff are doing a very good job, and it's nice to see young players like Joel Chew and Shah Shahiran excelling. They are also very mature for their age."
Apart from helping Tampines on the pitch, Baihakki added that he would like to play the role of mentor for the younger players off the pitch too.
"In recent years, Tampines have been one of the better teams in producing good young players. I'll do my best to help and guide them in whichever way I can," said the veteran.
"And if they really want, maybe I can even help open doors for them to venture overseas. I can definitely help with that too."
Additional reporting by Kelvin Leong
BANNER AND TEASER PHOTO CREDIT: BAIHAKKI KHAIZAN
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