Interview With Baihakki Khaizan
Baihakki glad for ‘joyful ride’ with Lions
Poised to collect his 100th cap against China this Friday, the 29-year-old reflects on his remarkable international career since making his debut in 2003
By Kenneth Tan
SINGAPORE, 3 September 2013 – It has been ten long years.
However he still remembers the occasion in which he made his first appearance in the famous red shirt.
“Of course I remember, it was a friendly match against Hong Kong in August 2003,” recalled Baihakki Khaizan.
“Back then, we still have the older players like Rafi (Ali), Nazri, Zulkarnaen Zainal and Rezal Hassan. It was a great experience as I didn’t expect that I was able to play with them in the same team.”
The then 19-year-old played almost 90 minutes in a delightful 4-1 win in Singapore and the rest is history.
Fast forward ten years later, Baihakki is now on the way to joining the illustrious 100-cap club which includes the likes of legends Fandi Ahmad, Samad Allapitchay, Malek Awab and more recent examples in Nazri, S Subramani and Aide Iskandar.
Only three other players from that Hong Kong game are still in the National Team – namely Indra Sahdan, Hassan Sunny and Shahril Ishak.
Reflecting on the ‘joyful ride’ he had with the Lions thus far, Bai is glad that a ‘risky’ career move has paid off for him – culminating in him becoming the next centurion before the age of thirty, a feat which will see him likely to receive a five-figure monetary incentive for achieving 100 international caps for the National Team.
“Of course this is something which I’ll remember for the rest of my life,” he said.
“It was a risky move back then (to play professional football) and I was contemplating over the decision. Also back then I was just 19, so I was prepared that I won’t be playing as much.
Along the way there’re ups and downs, there’s sacrifices to be made in your lifestyle – I’m just glad that somehow things were going perfectly for me and I kept playing since.
At least now I know that this was the right career move which I took and it has been a worthy ride. It is important that you enjoy a hobby which turns out to be a job for you.”
Over the years, obviously there were many mentors who guided him along the way including former gaffer Raddy Avramovic who gave him his debut.
“Coach Raddy played a big role in building up my career,” he shared.
“It was not only me, he also gave many other young players a chance and nurtured them.
Throughout my career as I grew up, I’ve played with different sets of players. There’re a few who always give me good feedback and guide me along the way, for example, Aide whom I played with and are now good friends out of football.
It’s wonderful to have such positive people surrounding you, thus here I am reaching this milestone at this age – it’s something which money can’t buy.”
Apart from those, he is also grateful that he has the companionship of Shahril, Hassan and Khairul Amri whom he has known since he was 12.
The quartet was also part of the pioneer batch of the National Football Academy in 2000.
2012, of course, was a landmark year for Singapore football – as the Lions clinched their fourth AFF Suzuki Cup title against all odds.
It was an achievement which the lanky defender which the 29-year-old played a starring role in – scoring in the first leg of the final which eventually proved to be the winner, and something which he is still coming to terms with.
“To win the competition three times personally is something which I still don’t believe,” he shared.
“Back then when Raddy took over in 2003, there was a major transition but we managed to win it the following year. A lot of us made the breakthrough that year and I’m proud to say that we rewrote a lot of history over the years.
I’ve only scored a handful in international colours, but the most memorable one has to be the one against Thailand. It was one moment that struck me – it was my third championship and definitely that was the peak of my career.
More often than usual, it is a not a bed of roses in the journey of life as the almost-unthinkable happened.
After a disappointing 2010 AFF Cup campaign, the defensive lynchpin was subsequently dropped for the next few National Team squads.
It was only till early last year when he earned a recall after a one-year absence.
Refusing to count that as the lowest point in his career, Bai revealed that setback pushed him to work even harder.
“There’s always a period where not every journey is smooth, even the sea have high and low tides,” he said philosophically.
“It is the same for human beings, we will definitely make mistakes halfway through. Of course when you’re angry, you will tend to think that things won’t turn your way again.
But I’m always an optimistic person, I always have the self-belief and I love challenges. Such happenings made me push extra and become stronger.”
That upbeat nature has helped him deal with many disappointments over the years.
“I’ve never really thought of retiring at any point,” he stated.
“I’ve always enjoyed my time with the National Team although we have days where we are very upset.
Always after winning the AFF, we want to go up to the next step which is competing at Asian level. However we often failed halfway through and we’re still trying to get there till today.
What we don’t realize though is that we have improved year-by-year.”
Reaching the big three in terms of age next year, Bai still believes he has a few good years in him before the rigours of top-level football take the toll on him.
“Age is just a number,” he insisted.
“I’ll give my best as long as I’m still needed by the country. Of course I must accept reality that someone will take over me someday - when the day comes, I will let the next generation continue.
You can see we already have a well-made defender in Safuwan. Apart from him we have upcoming players like Afiq (Yunos) and Faris (Azienuddin), slowly they will go through what I went through.”
Perfectly aware that his career could wind down in the next five years or so, Bai has already made plans for post-retirement.
Setting up an interior design and renovation company named 3 BAI 3 Creative Works in April this year, he hopes to send across a message to all local footballers.
“In football, your lifespan is short,” he reiterated.
“You enjoy it while it lasts, but we know that realistically you cannot play till 50 or 60 thus you must plan and prepare your own umbrella.
As professional players, we understand that the FAS always seek to explore opportunities for us, including study scholarships, coaching licence among others. But we should also help ourselves and set our own route in life.”
Setting himself a target to retire by 35 years old, he is hoping that his start-up will be able to grow and stabilize by then.
Having gone through a tough upbringing where his mum was the sole breadwinner, Baihakki wants aspiring footballers to have the right mentality in order to achieve what he has today.
“I always say this – there are two things in football,” he shared.
“One is respect, second is attitude. There are a lot of things along the way which you can relate to what they mean. Once you understand that, you will go a long way in football.
To me, what happens in life can be good or bad – it depends on how you accept it. I believe if you look at things positively, good things will come to you.
Sometimes it’s difficult for young players to accept that – there’s sacrifices to be made, phases of life to go through and other psychological factors affecting them. At the end of the day, these things not only make you a better sportsman but also a better person.”
The Football Association of Singapore wish Baihakki all the best for his landmark game against China this Friday!