SINGAPORE - Two months ago, Baihakki Khaizan found himself without a club after his contract with S-League side Warriors FC had ended.
The veteran defender, who was dropped from the national team by coach V. Sundram Moorthy in March last year, was considering his options with offers from several clubs within the region.
The new year has brought bright prospects for Baihakki, who turns 34 this month. He now finds himself on the verge of making history as the first Singaporean to play professional football in the Middle East.
Capped 129 times for Singapore, Baihakki is currently in contract negotiations with Saudi Arabian side Jeddah Club, where he was on trial for five days last week.
Jeddah play in the second-tier Prince Faisal bin Fahd League, and are 14th in the 16-team league, with half the season gone.
The club has won just three of its 15 league matches and has the joint-worst defensive record, conceding 27 goals.
It has offered Baihakki a four-month contract until the end of the Saudi football season, which ends in late April.
Despite feeling he had acquitted himself well during the trial, Baihakki told The Straits Times on Tuesday (Jan 2) he was still stunned to be offered a contract.
"The position I am now, in football terms, considering my age, plus all the negativity around me (being dropped from the national team)... I thought my career was done with.
"But this (offer) is like a light in the darkness, something for me to look forward to. I want to make things right again.”
Baihakki, who turned professional in 2003 and has played for Persija Jakarta, Persib Bandung and Medan Chiefs in Indonesia as well as Johor Darul Takzim in Malaysia, admitted that the intensity and quality of the training sessions at Jeddah was challenging.
"In training every day, I felt like I was playing an international game," he said.
"It was the same feeling as when I played against the likes of Oman, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. The level is really different.
"But the field was good, the weather was nice, and I managed to lift myself up and by the third day I felt I could cope well."
The opportunity at Jeddah came about through Baihakki's agent Ashikin Hashim and her contacts in the Middle East. Baihakki had originally planned to travel to Saudi Arabia for two weeks to perform the Umrah pilgrimage with his family and Ashikin set up the trial at Jeddah.
A Saudi-based agent, Faisal Bineissa, is handling Baihakki's contract negotiations with Jeddah. Faisal says club officials have told him Baihakki made a very good impression during his trial, and praised the defender’s “classy and well-mannered” ways.
Other Singaporeans who have plied their trade outside of South-east Asia include Fandi Ahmad (Groningen in the Netherlands), Sundram (FC Basel in Switzerland) and Safuwan Baharudin (Melbourne City in Australia).
Fandi said: "It's good for him. It's all about desire and what you have in your tank. If he feels good and strong, and believes he can play at a high level, why not?
"As a player, you want to try carry on playing as long as you can. I played until I was 39.
"I wish him good luck, and hopefully he does well enough for them to extend his contract for the next season."