On Friday, Baihakki Khaizan will reach a milestone when he wins his 100th cap for Singapore in an away friendly against China. But the footballer is already looking further ahead.
Looking relaxed and cheerful, the first-choice centre-back for the Lions welcomed The Straits Times to the office of his new business venture, 3Bai3 Creative Works, an interior design company in Joo Chiat Road. At 29, he is in his footballing prime, winning the Malaysian Super League (MSL) title recently with the LionsXII and his services coveted by clubs abroad. Off the pitch, he is happily married to Suria singer-actress Norfasarie Yahya.
They have two children - son Mika Bazil, four, and daughter Moza Alyka, two. And with his family in mind, Baihakki hinted that he could embark on one last football adventure overseas after his LionsXII contract expires at the end of this year before his career winds down.
"The next decision will be the most important one of my football career. This time, I have to put my family first," he said.
"I have not decided on who to sign for but my decision will be based on what's best for my family."
Currently, four clubs are in the running to sign the 1.9m-tall defender - Bangkok Glass from the Thai Premier League, Malaysian military side ATM, MSL big spenders Johor Darul Takzim and second-tiered Malaysian Premier League side Johor FA.
Baihakki declined to divulge more about his suitors but a source close to him said Johor FA are willing to triple his current monthly salary - said to be $10,000 - and throw in a $40,000 signing bonus as well.
Playing overseas is nothing new to him as he has had previous stints with Indonesian clubs Persija, Persib Bandung and Medan Chiefs, lasting a total of nearly three years from 2009-11. But the offer from Johor comes with a perk. The proximity just across the Causeway will make commuting convenient as he juggles family life, business and football.
Explaining his decision to play in Indonesia previously, he said: "I was younger and I wanted to do something different and taste other kinds of football.
"The stadiums in Indonesia were packed, the fans were crazy about football, the supporters mobbed me, I had good contracts, there were perks like chauffeurs... I really felt like a celebrity."
Given his first cap by former Lions coach Raddy Avramovic in a 4-1 win over Hong Kong a decade ago, Baihakki has matured into an automatic choice for the country.
One of his finest hours in a red shirt came in last year's ASEAN Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup win, when he scored in the final against Thailand and was named in the team of the tournament. It was also his third triumph in the competition, after gold medals in 2004 and 2007.
But there were lows as well. In 2010, he and Ridhuan Muhammad were fined $750 each for boarding the team bus late ahead of an Asian Cup qualifier against Jordan.
Football may have been the passion that consumed his youth. Then, upon completing his PSLE, he specifically wanted to enrol in Jin Tai Secondary School because of the reputation of its football team. But Baihakki thinks differently these days. Even though he will not turn 30 until Jan 31, he is already seeing a future in business.
He said: "Sad to say, football is not going to make me a millionaire. It's the reality here. I've got to look after my wife and kids.
"Thankfully, I developed a passion for interior design after I renovated my flat in 2008. Since then, I have learnt 3D design. "As a national footballer, I get to travel and stay in nice hotels. And that's how I get ideas, looking at the decor of the rooms and toilets. "Maybe I can last another five years as a player. But the time has come to think about things like financial security."
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