SINGAPORE - Even though he had already secured a two-year deal with Home United starting next month, national goalkeeper Hassan Sunny was shocked when he found out his current employers - Thai League 2 side Army United - had dissolved almost overnight.
Three weeks ago, Thai daily the Bangkok Post reported that Thailand's army chief General Apirat Kongsompong, who is also the club's chairman, suspended the football team because of their continued poor performance. This, after they had missed out on promotion by six points last season.
Hassan, 35, told The Straits Times: "I found out the news from social media. It was really unexpected for a team with more than 100 years of history.
"I'm thankful that Home United came in with an offer that I couldn't refuse, but I'm also sad and worried for some of my Army team-mates who are left without a club."
Nevertheless, Hassan can look back on four seasons (2015, 2016, 2018 and 2019) at the Bangkok-based side with a smile.
He said: "The culture there is different and the people there are too nice. I was very close to the kitman and I just received a text asking for my address so that his mother can send me a 'thank you' gift. They are not well-to-do but are so generous, which is really touching.
"Football-wise, I learnt to be more encouraging because Thai players don't like to be shouted at. Also, as an import, all eyes were on me and at no point did I slacken."
Already regarded as one of Singapore's model professional footballers, Hassan did not waste much time after the Thai League 2 season ended in October. He has already been running and hitting the gym for a month now as he prepares for the upcoming season, which could start in February.
"I want to do everything I can to prolong my career. This means taking care of my food and making sure I'm fit and healthy," he said. "If Aleksandar Duric and Daniel Bennett can play to their 40s, why not me? If it is possible, I still want to play in Thailand in the future."
But for now, his eyes are firmly on winning the Singapore Premier League (SPL) with the Protectors, who are making big waves with their off-season signings.
Besides Hassan, they have recruited Japanese defender Kaishu Yamazaki, midfielder Shahdan Sulaiman and forward Gabriel Quak, three of the SPL's top performers last season, as well as 22-year-old Australian striker Andy Pengelly.
At the helm will be former Australia captain Aurelio Vidmar, who had coached his nation's Under-20 and U-23 teams, and took the Socceroos for one game as caretaker.
The 52-year-old was the A-League's 2008/09 Coach of the Year, and made history by guiding Adelaide United to the 2008 AFC Champions League final, becoming the first Australian team to do so.
Hassan said: "I played against his Bangkok Glass team when I first joined Army and even then he likes his team to attack.
"Home have also made the signings to be a more attacking side and I hope we can work well together and win something.
"I'm really looking forward to the reunion with local players like Shahdan, Izzdin Shafiq, and my batch-mate Shahril Ishak, whom I have not played alongside at club level since we were in the Young Lions in 2005.
"But for a start, we have to concede fewer goals and win more games. With Singapore having a Champions League group-stage slot in 2021, it is a good target and motivation for us to help Home win the league for the first time since 2003."