In a stunning twist, Singapore footballer Baihakki Khaizan is set to sign for Thai giants Muangthong United.
The veteran defender, who turns 34 at the end of the month and has been capped 129 times, confirmed the move with The Straits Times yesterday. He flies to Bangkok today to sign the one-year deal.
He had been on trial last month with Jeddah Club and was in contract negotiations with the Saudi Arabian second-tier side.
That deal fell through and he was in talks to sign for Malaysian Super League (MSL) side Kuala Lumpur FA instead.
But Muangthong changed all that with an offer at the eleventh hour.
Baihakki told ST: "When I got the call (from the Muangthong official) on Tuesday night, I was stunned, just like how I felt when Jeddah told me they wanted me.
"It is extraordinary."
Jeddah had offered the 1.90m centre-back a four-month contract until the end of the Saudi football season in April, and said an extension was possible.
FAMILY COMES FIRST
It was a very difficult decision for me to take. Yes, it's true that if I took this deal, it could lead to an extension or other opportunities. But I had to decide what's best for my family.
BAIHAKKI KHAIZAN, Singapore centre-back, on turning down a four-month contract with Saudi Arabia's Jeddah Club - with the possibility of an extension - in favour of a one-year deal with Thai side Muangthong United.
But the father-of-three, who declined to reveal the amount offered by the Middle East club, rejected the terms.
"It was a very difficult decision for me to take," he said.
"Yes, it's true that if I took this deal, it could lead to an extension or other opportunities. But I had to decide what's best for my family."
If he had signed and did not get a contract extension in April, he would be allowed to sign only for clubs in South-east Asia when the mid-season transfer window opens in June.
It is understood that many second-tier Saudi clubs, and even some smaller sides from the top division, have financial issues following the announcement of Saudi's Vision 2030 last year.
As part of the economic reforms, their clubs are pressured to be profitable and rely less on donations. This has resulted in some players, including foreign imports, reportedly receiving their salaries late.
While he would not be the first Singaporean to play in the Middle East, Baihakki is still set to become the first local to feature in the top divisions of Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Muangthong were runners-up in last season's Thai League 1 and are the second-most successful club with four league titles (2009, 2010, 2012 and 2016).
They beat Asian heavyweights, Kashima Antlers of Japan and Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea, and reached the last 16 of the AFC Asian Champions League last season.
ST understands that Muangthong moved for Baihakki to fill their Asean player quota, after Vietnamese striker Nguyen Van Quyet turned them down in favour of a more lucrative move to Kedah FA.
Muangthong could not be reached for comment.
They open their 2018 campaign on Jan 23 in a Champions League qualifier against MSL champions Johor Darul Takzim, one of Baihakki's former teams.
He said that his impending move to Thailand has rejuvenated him.
"I had already started having thoughts of preparing for life after football," he said. "But this shows that in life, you cannot predict anything. I just feel very thankful."