SINGAPORE - Lions stalwart Baihakki Khaizan's playing career may have come to an end earlier this week but the 38-year-old is just getting started on the next chapter of his football story.
Baihakki, who announced his retirement a day after his 38th birthday on Tuesday (Feb 1), has taken up a new role as Lead of Special Projects and ambassador with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).
He starts his role on Feb 15 and the newly carved out job will see him spearheading projects aimed at elevating Singapore football through partnerships and collaborations with key stakeholders. This will include initiatives related to Unleash The Roar! - a national project announced in March 2021 to lift local football standards and qualify Singapore for the 2034 World Cup.
Baihakki told The Sunday Times: "My goal was always to play till I was 35. After the recent season ended, I spoke to some of my fellow professionals and my family. Physically, I still feel like I can go on for another five years but I have always wanted to finish off my career on my terms and hence I've chosen now as the time to step aside and bow out."
Baihakki will mentor the national team age group players (boys and girls) and will be attached to the teams for competitions where required and work with the FAS and other relevant agencies to develop strategies to encourage, motivate and inspire young players to pursue football as a career.
FAS general secretary Yazeen Buhari said that talks with Baihakki on his post playing career had commenced as early as two years ago.
Said Yazeen: "Most players would want to go down the coaching route but there are a considerable number of players who have the desire to go into an administrative role. We saw that in Baihakki and had talks with him, where he showed his desire and hunger to contribute to Singapore football. The journey that he had as a young player coming through the national development programme, the local league and then going overseas - we want to tap on that experience.
"He wants to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty and what he brings is something you can't find off the shelves. He is someone who has walked the talk."
Baihakki is Singapore's second most capped player with 140 appearances for the national team - two shy of Daniel Bennett.
In his debut season with Geylang United in 2003, he won the then S-League's Young Player of the Year award before going on to forge a career that saw him represent 12 clubs across Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. He won the Malaysia Super League title in 2013 with the LionsXII and three Asean Football Federation Championship titles with the national team.
Baihakki had previously called time on his international career in March 2019 but returned to the Lions fold later that year, before joining Tampines Rovers in 2020 until his retirement from professional football.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Baihakki said he has only realised the impact of his career after watching a video put up by his wife, Norfasarie Mohd Yahya, on his birthday.
The video featured several of his former teammates and friends wishing him well for the next phase of his life. They included Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim, Thailand football icon Chanathip Songkrasin, Singapore football legend Fandi Ahmad and national team captain Hariss Harun, among others.
Said Baihakki: "Growing up, I used to sometimes sneak onto buses from my humble home in Jurong East just so I could make it to training at Bedok Stadium.
"I started from nothing. Never would I have thought that I would go on to win trophies for my country and connect with all these special friends from here and abroad. Looking back now, I feel blessed to have had the career I've had."
He is eager to spend more time with his family after missing out on several family milestones due to his multiple overseas stints for club and national team.
Just last year, Baihakki had World Cup qualifiers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, just five days after the birth of his daughter Myla Alyka.
He has two sons - Mika Bazil, 13 and Muaz Bazil, six - and two daughters, Moza Alyka, 11 and Myla, who is now eight months old.
But just as he shown throughout his career, improving the fortunes of Singapore football will still be his focus.
Said Baihakki, who hopes to recommend alternative ways to scout players and improve the Singapore Premier League: "I am extremely thankful to the FAS for bringing me onboard. My No. 1 goal is to oversee an overall improvement in Singapore football and I hope to play a part in that by sharing my experience and knowledge based on what I have learnt as a player.
"I am jealous when I look at some of our regional leagues and see how they have grown. Football is a game that I have played since I was five and I want to see it grow and become better in Singapore."