National Team - Lions ● Feb 01, 2022
Lions legend Baihakki Khaizan retires
SINGAPORE, 1 FEBRUARY 2022 – After a stellar career that spanned almost 19 years, a legend of Singapore football has called time on his playing journey.
Baihakki Khaizan, who confirmed earlier today that he is hanging up his boots, has already cemented his legacy as one of the finest Lions to ever don a Singapore jersey.
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In 2003, the same year that a 19-year-old “Bai” made his professional debut with Geylang United, the centre-back made his international debut. That came on 4 August against Hong Kong at the Jalan Besar Stadium, an international friendly that he completed as the Lions won 4-1.
It was the start of a distinguished international career that saw Baihakki earn 140 caps, the last of which came in June last year, while helping Singapore win the ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Championship three times. Who could forget Baihakki’s goal two minutes into stoppage time against Thailand in the first leg of the 2012 final at Jalan Besar, which effectively sealed the Lions’ fourth regional crown? Baihakki would go on to score twice more for the country, taking his international tally to five, and steps down as the second-most capped player in Lions history – only two behind Daniel Bennett.
“I have achieved my personal targets and I came to a feeling like it is all coming to an end,” Baihakki told FAS.org.sg. “I can say that past two months of ‘transition’ was an emotional one, as I did not really get to ‘see’ the whole overall view of my playing journey until recently when I decided to retire (and told my family). We went through all the memories since the first day of my career and it gave me a deep sense of reflection.
“Having played 140 games for Singapore, there are a lot of ups and downs but to be honest, I have enjoyed all the processes we have gone through. When we prepare for big games and tournaments, whenever you don the jersey, whenever you know that there is a FIFA international window coming up, I start to get an energy boost prior to it while still training with my club; I cannot wait to report to the National Team and I have always enjoyed playing big games on big occasions.”
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Part of the pioneer batch of the now-defunct National Football Academy in 2000, Baihakki progressed through the various age-groups and at club level, started his professional career with Geylang (now Geylang International). He was named the S.LEAGUE (now Singapore Premier League) Young Player of the Year in his debut season in 2003 and went on to play for the Young Lions (2004-2007), back to Geylang (2008-2009), Warriors FC (2017) and most recently, Tampines Rovers (2020-2021).
Baihakki ventured abroad as well – two seasons with the LionsXII yielded a Malaysia Super League title in 2013, while there were spells in Indonesia (Persija Jakarta, Persib Bandung, Medan Chiefs), Malaysia (Johor Darul Ta’zim) and Thailand (Udon Thani, Trat, PT Prachuap). He briefly retired from international football in 2019, but returned later that year.
Unsurprisingly, his peers have plenty of praise for him, as can be seen in the video tribute below.
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“First, I would like to congratulate you on your football achievements in all those years,” former Singapore Head Coach Radojko Avramovic said. “I would also like to wish you health and success in your new chapter in life. Good luck and best wishes to you and your family.”
The Lions’ most recent Head Coach, Tatsuma Yoshida, said: “I want to say congratulations for your achievements and a great career. I want to thank you as I was always helped by your leadership and character… I will never forget spending all those times with you. When I told you that I could not call you up for the AFF Suzuki Cup, your behaviour was really professional even though you had to have felt angry and sad. I want you to spend your time with your lovely family.”
Lions captain Hariss Harun added: “It has been a pleasure to know you as a person and to have been your team-mate for many years, and thank you for your guidance and contributions to Singapore football. I remember when I joined JDT, it was comforting to know that I had a familiar face alongside me (in you)… When I was told that you have decided to retire, I felt sad but I understand and I am sure you are going to contribute (to the game) off the pitch.”
Photo: AFF Suzuki Cup
Having witnessed almost everything in his playing days, Baihakki had some advice for the younger generation: “Whatever it is, always try to work hard and get out of your comfort zone. Always be on your toes and move around; try to go abroad, as you will get to know yourself more, both as a person and player. You can break the (current) ceiling and climb to another level and I think it is crucial for players to grow, especially in this era where a lot of young players moving (abroad).”
Singapore football will most definitely not be seeing the back of Baihakki anytime soon though, as he has expressed a desire to give back.
“I aim to be in the football circle still as I want to understand the game more from a management perspective,” he said. “I would like to explore (this area) more and hopefully with my playing experience around the region and knowledge, I can contribute and we can get things aligned to what we need for local football to progress.”