Baihakki Khaizan open to Lions recall after shining in Thailand
While Singapore football heralded a fresh chapter with the arrival of new national coach Tatsuma Yoshida last month, a former Lion is quietly enjoying a renaissance in Thailand.
At 35, Baihakki Khaizan has found his second wind with Thai League 1 side Trat FC.
Trat are sixth in the 16-team league, nine points behind leaders and defending champions Buriram United.
The 1.89m centre-back has barely put a foot wrong in defence for his new club.
This season, he has been booked only once - in last Saturday's 3-0 loss to Muangthong United which ended Trat's five-match winning run.
He has also racked up two goals and an assist in 13 games.
The New Paper understands that clubs from the Thai League and the region are monitoring his performance with a view to signing him next season .
Baihakki told TNP in a phone interview: "I am really enjoying my game here. At this stage of my career, I feel relaxed and it's down to not having to prove myself to anyone.
"I am really happy to be in this squad and contributing to the best of my abilities."
"Usually at the start of a season, I would set certain goals. But this year, I told myself to just enjoy my football," added Baihakki, who has also played in the top tiers in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.
His form has has parallels with Trat's progress. Having won promotion from the second division last season, many had tipped Trat for relegation.
He put the club's rise down to the feel-good factor within the dressing room.
Said Baihakki: "It has been all about unity. That has been our strength. After the games, the coaches are always positive and we win and lose as a team.
"That is something I hope can change in our coaches' mentality back at home."
The only snag has been the inability to spend as much time as he would like with his wife and children.
"They are always on my mind. I always take my passport along for away games because, if the coach decides to give us two days off or more, I can travel from there to Singapore, to see my family," said Baihakki.
Paul Murphy, a freelance writer who has covered Thai football for the last six years, sang praises of Baihakki.
He told TNP: "Baihakki brings a lot of experience to the squad and it is clear that he is a quality player."
In March, Baihakki announced his international retirement after more than 15 years. With 134 caps, Baihakki is the third-most capped Lion, behind Daniel Bennett (142) and Shahril Ishak (138).
Asked if Baihakki could still be an asset to the national team, Murphy said: "Age is not a factor, if you can prove that even at 35 you can still perform week in and out in the Thai League.
"He has clearly done that."
Is Baihakki willing to make a U-turn on his international retirement?
He said: "I'm happily retired and I believe the squad is in good hands in coach Tatsuma. But I'm always ready to serve my country." - DEEPANRAJ GANESAN
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