Less than three weeks before he turns 35 on Jan 31, national defender Baihakki Khaizan is counting his blessings after he signed a one-year contract with Thai League 1 side Trat FC on Friday.
The 1.89-metre centre-back moves from Thai giants Muangthong United and is looking forward to playing in the top tier after being sent on loan to Thai League 2 side Udon Thani, where he played in 23 league games and scored one goal as they finished sixth last season.
Trat were also in the second division, but were promoted after finishing second behind PTT Rayong. The White Elephants play in the 6,000-seater Thai Province Stadium and are based in the coastal province of Trat, an hour's flight from Bangkok.
Baihakki told The Straits Times: "While I enjoyed myself at Udon Thani, I was disappointed at being loaned out to the second division as my mission was to play in T1.
"After a year of patience, I'm finally here and I hope to achieve something together with Trat. We may be a newly promoted team, but Trat have a decent squad and made some good signings.
"We take inspiration from Prachuap, who were promoted and finished sixth in T1 last season. Sure, there are giants like Buriram, Bangkok United and Muangthong, but T1 is also an exciting and unpredictable league, and we look forward to surprising people."
He has been one of Singapore's most travelled Lions in recent years, after winning the 2003 S-League Young Player of the Year award in his debut season with Geylang United.
From 2009 to 2012, he played for three big Indonesian clubs - Persija Jakarta, Persib Bandung and Medan Chiefs. Upon his return to Singapore, he won the Malaysian Super League with the LionsXII in 2013 before signing with Johor Darul Takzim the following year.
RARING TO GO
After a year of patience, I'm finally here and I hope to achieve something together with Trat.
BAIHAKKI KHAIZAN, 34-year-old Singapore defender, on his latest challenge.
He played for Warriors FC in the S-League for a season in 2017 before moving to Thailand last year. Singapore Premier League side Hougang United had been keen to sign him to beef up their defence, but he decided to go for a bigger challenge and pay packet overseas.
"I appreciate the interest from Hougang, and they gave me a good headache," said Baihakki.
"People assume many negative things about 35-year-old players but I feel I can still keep up with the modern game and go on, and I am thankful for teams who recognise and value my abilities.
"Nobody knows whether such an offer from a top-tier Thai side will come again, it could be my last chance and I must make full use of this to prove my worth."
Having played only 23 minutes in Singapore's failed AFF Suzuki Cup campaign in November, he hopes to add to his 134 caps after the Lions appoint their new head coach by next month. "It is always an honour to wear the national jersey, and I'm always available. But each coach has his own thinking so for now I can focus only on doing my best for Trat," he said.
Baihakki's deal means there are now four Singaporean footballers playing in Thailand, with Army United goalkeeper Hassan Sunny, Nong Bua Pitchaya custodian Izwan Mahbud and Bangkok Glass defender Irfan Fandi all in T2.
Over in Malaysia, national skipper and midfielder Hariss Harun continues to captain MSL champions JDT after signing a contract extension in October that keeps him at the club until 2021, and utility player Safuwan Baharudin is set to stay with FA Cup winners Pahang.
Defender Shakir Hamzah is a new addition to Kedah, who are under Singaporean coach Aidil Sharin, while winger Faris Ramli has joined second-division side Perlis from top-tier team PKNS FC.
Ikhsan Fandi is the only Lion in Europe, having signed a two-year deal with Norwegian second-tier side Raufoss on Saturday.