Asian Football Interviews

Setting Foot In Unchartered Territories – Razeen Khalid’s Unorthodox Career Part 1

Image Credits: Uitm

If the name Razeen Khalid rings a bell, you may remember him from my previous interview with Central African Republic international and former Home United stalwart Franklin Anzité. I briefly mentioned Razeen, who was his agent in Malaysia. Razeen was a central figure during Franklin’s footballing chapter in Malaysia.

Yet, make no mistake. Razeen is not your average football agent. A former footballer who began his career late into his twenties, Razeen played most of his semi-professional career in foreign soil – trying his luck in Thailand, playing in the USA and the English lower divisions, and even trialling with Hougang United in Singapore.

An exciting football tale, this is Razeen’s story.

The Path Seems Bright

Like many of us, Razeen grew up watching football, but when he was eight years old, he realised that he wanted to pursue it more seriously. It was his uncle who helped get him more involved in the sport. In 1988, Razeen’s uncle was still in college, and many of his college mates were playing in various Malaysian leagues. Seeing these players battle it out on the pitch inspired Razeen to lace his boots and join them. After that, it became a daily passion.

Playing against eighteen and nineteen-year-olds at the tender age of 9 helped Razeen mature and his football skills developed quickly. Then, at ten years old, Razeen was called up to play in his under-10 zone team and, in the same year, earned a call up to play in the under-12 zone team.

Well, if you’re confused about what a zone team is, don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

According to Razeen, back then in Malaysia, there weren’t any organised youth leagues in the past as there are today. Instead, there existed three-tiered league systems. First, there was the school football system, an inter-zone system where promising students from various districts within the state will be chosen to compete against other zones teams. And finally, there was the state football team where players who did well both at the school and inter-zonal level would be chosen.

Image Credits: Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur

At 11, Razeen was called up to represent the Malaysia Under-12 national team and played against the South Korea under-12 team. For the next two years, Razeen’s footballing would development would continue to rise. When he was thirteen years old, he was recruited into the fabled Victoria Institution – arguably the best high school for football in Malaysia. Countless Malaysian legends had come through the ranks at Victoria. The most famous graduate is none other than the late Mokhtar Dahari, the Malaysian icon who scored a whopping 89 goals for the national side.

“Even in the current league, there is a throng of footballers who came from Victoria Institution. It is a football school, a really famous football school. So, I was cast into that team and my football career continued to rise. I was state champion by the time I was 15 years old, and I remember Lotto was sponsoring us. So, football was good during that time.”

Arriving At Crossroads

Although, football was not his only focus in life during this period.

“I had the advantage of having highly-educated parents. My father is a doctor. So, education was also equally important for me. I also played multiple sports. One of them was tennis and I was a State Tennis player, which meant I was playing two sports at the state level. I was constantly travelling around the state and sometimes to different countries playing these sports.”

After clinching the state championship at 15, Razeen believed that it was time for him to focus on his education. Earning a scholarship to study overseas had been on the back of his mind while playing football with Victoria. However, he felt it was time to bring that to the forefront.

“The best way to earn a scholarship in Malaysia was to go to a boarding school –an institution which was fully centred around education. All these multi-national corporations would most likely go to these boarding schools to look for scholars. So I had to choose and I left VI (Victoria Institution) with a heavy heart. I knew had I chose to stay at VI and continue playing for the state team, I could go even further up the football ladder. This was around ‘95 and ‘96. During the 1997 FIFA World Youth Championship, almost half of the Malaysia team were all Victoria Institution boys. I could have been one of them (playing against the Uruguay, Belgium and Morocco youth teams).”

A Choice Has To Be Made – But Was It The Right One?

Instead, Razeen would travel to Perak to enroll in an elite Malaysia school, Malay College Kuala Kangsar. Many prominent politicians have graduated from the institution. It was a no brainer for Razeen, who knew his prospects of earning a scholarship to pursue his degree overseas were significantly boosted. Unfortunately, it meant giving up football. Or did it?

“Little did I realise that Perak football was also huge and my new school Malay College Kuala Kangsar was very much involved in football over there. It’s just that I chose the school to focus more on the last two years of my education. The level of football was okay and I could represent the Perak State football team but I opted out whenever I received a call-up.”

His decision to put football on hold appeared to be justified, as he secured a scholarship with ExxonMobil. Crucially, the scholarship allowed Razeen to study abroad in America. Yet, he does look back and wonder if he did indeed make the right choice at times. If anything, he regrets not playing football in Perak because scouts would have probably noticed him. That meant that at the end of high school, different offers could have come his way.

America – Opportunities Galore

Image Credits: University of Michigan

Razeen managed to enter the University of Michigan and fondly remembers a certain Tom Brady (that’s right, NFL icon Tom Brady) was a college athlete at the institution during his time there. Unfortunately, while Razeen continued focusing on his studies during his first year at Michigan, he wasn’t doing as well as he hoped.

“I realized in my first year that my results weren’t doing too good when I was focusing only on my education. So, I told myself that I needed to change and return to how I did things in the past. So, I changed things. I got myself fit again and I started to play more soccer again.  Playing sports in Michigan really thought me a lot of things. I learned a lot about sports through the American lens, especially learning more about the sports science aspect of things and how to take care of myself.”

Playing for Michigan in the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association and signing up for open leagues, Razeen learned how to live and work as a top athlete in America. 

In his opinion, it was all about talent and physical size in Malaysia. Razeen usually stood out in the Malaysian system since he was 188cm (6’2”) tall, but he notes how there was “no further education for players on what to eat and how to prepare for a game or a season.”

In many ways, his time in America also helped formulate an excellent foundational knowledge of various aspects of the game that would help him later in his career as an agent.  

“After winning the National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association tournament consecutively as a club football team, Michigan eventually got invited into the NCAA. As Michigan was a big school, they were automatically invited to apply for NCAA Division 1, the top-ranked American athletic programme. So naturally, I wanted to play for the Divison 1 soccer team.

“So, that summer, I returned to Malaysia, and I was practically training every day in the afternoon to get used to the summer heat in America. Some people couldn’t understand what I was doing. Eventually, I went for the soccer trials and it was very tough. Unfortunately, I did not pass the trials for the NCAA squad. That was in my final year, but it was okay. I told myself that the following year I would be able to play in Malaysia.”

With his towering height, his refined talent and the sports science knowledge he acquired in America, Razeen was well-equipped to play in Malaysia professional leagues. Yet, there existed one barrier to this reality – convincing his sponsors to allow him to play professionally first before returning to serve out the period of his bond.

However, he couldn’t convince his sponsors back then in 2002 and, due to contractual obligations, professional football was once again shelved.

Razeen did still play football at some capacity in the state leagues. However, it was never the level where he should have played at. As part 1 of this two-part article comes to a close, I can’t help but point out how many Singaporeans could potentially relate to his story to various extents.

While education is undoubtedly important, an over-prioritization of education has perhaps made us sacrifice our various passions. Applying for scholarships and fulfilling bonds are all too familiar for many Singaporeans. I have heard stories from peers of how they may be thankful for the sponsored university degree but dread the bond period they have to serve after graduation. 

Image Courtesy of Razeen Khalid

Maybe we need to take a step back and ask ourselves how do we achieve balance? A balance that Razeen eventually achieves. Stay tuned for part 2 of this article to find out more. 

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