Baihakki return can rekindle LionsXII title hopes

The Singapore international will rejoin his former club after terminating his Johor Darul Takzim contract and could prove to be a valuable addition to the young squad

Ahmad Khan

So it’s official then. Baihakki Khaizan will be a LionsXII player for the rest of the season after his premature (albeit temporary) end to his Johor Darul Takzim (JDT) campaign.

The 30-year-old defender left the LionsXII after their title-winning campaign last season to join a star-studded JDT team, but his journey across the border lasted barely five months, as he was cut from the team a few weeks back.

The rationale for the move is pretty simple: Baihakki needs to keep playing football to stand any chance of being in the squad for the AFF Suzuki Cup at the end of the year, and the LionsXII could do with a person of his caliber after an inconsistent season so far.

Some would criticise the move as it sends the wrong message for a "developmental" team, with his involvement likely to deprive youngsters such as Afiq Yunos and Madhu Mohana a spot in the starting 11.

Yes, questions should be rightfully asked, but Baihakki’s presence to the squad should not be understated. In fact, his return to the LionsXII fold is likely to be beneficial for the team in general, the youngsters and the player himself.

The team is currently languishing in sixth position in the Malaysia Super League and seven points adrift of the top, hinting at a lack of consistent performances in the season so far. At times, the LionsXII has proven that they can match the very best in the league, with a 4-1 thumping of league leaders Pahang FA last month serving as a fine example. But they have also mustered uninspiring performances time and again as well, with the shock 1-0 home defeat to newcomers Sime Darby FC still a fresh memory.

Coach Fandi Ahmad has been crying out for his team to put in consistent shifts during the matches, and there is no better person to lead by example than Baihakki himself.

With a wealth of experience playing across the region, having Baihakki around will no doubt solidify the team’s defense, which has leaked more than a goal a game on average so far this season.

To put it bluntly, if Baihakki plays well, it is more than likely that the LionsXII can eke out a positive result more often than not.

In a way, it would also free Safuwan Baharudin from the shackles of his defensive duties should Fandi decide to play him higher up the pitch to give an attacking impetus to the side should it be required.

However, some would still point out that having Baihakki in the team would beat the purpose of giving the younger, up-and-coming players a chance to prove their mettle. That’s a fair point.

But having a player as experienced as Baihakki in the squad far outweighs that factor for numerous reasons. For one, the youngsters playing alongside him will probably look to him for guidance and they can learn from his experience and knowledge of the game, all of which would serve to improve their own ability as footballers.

In a way, the younger players will likely look to him as an elder brother or a role model of a top football professional, and having him around the squad can do wonders for their morale on and off the pitch.

On top of all that, the addition of Baihakki into the team would also test the characters of the young boys who play in the same position. An increase in competition for places is always healthier rather than having players feeling safe about their place in the squad and stagnating.

Truth be told, the LionsXII are more likely to see a higher number of yellow cards per game with Baihakki’s flying tackles and challenges, but that’s exactly what the team needs; somebody who is willing to get down and dirty, somebody to make a statement, get in the opponent’s faces and not mess about with the team.

Baihakki’s return to the team can only serve to improve the LionsXII as a whole, and it might just be what the team needs to revive their faltering title charge.