Asian Football Interviews

Setting Foot In Unchartered Territories – Razeen Khalid’s Unorthodox Career Part 2

Do read part 1 if you haven’t already!

After A Hiatus, The Football Dream Continues

For the next six years, Razeen Khalid would be working as an engineer for ExxonMobil but football would not be completely missing from his life. Playing regularly in the state league, Razeen did his best to fulfil his perpetual need to taste football action. Yet, despite quenching his thirst for the beautiful game, a lingering thought roamed the back of his mind.

“It was the highest level of state league football organized by FAs of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur. I was paid to play but I could have played harder higher than that. But the truth is, I didn’t as I couldn’t. Yeah, it was state league but I was not a diligent professional training every day.”

By the time he was 28 years old, his bond with ExxonMobil had ended and if fate would have it, an opportunity to immerse himself in football fully came knocking again.

Razeen’s younger brother, Shahir, was already a pro but had to hit pause on his professional career to complete his bachelor’s degree. However, unlike Razeen, he wasn’t bounded to any contractual bond and thus wanted to continue his journey of being a professional footballer.

“My brother had played at MPPJ F.C. but stopped football and then went on to London to finish his degree and after he came back he told me, ‘Mate, I want to play football. I’ve got my degree and I want to focus on football full-on.’ I had previously represented my brother for negotiations with DPMM FC and MPPJ FC while I was working [for ExxonMobil], but he asked me a new question this time. He asked me, ‘will you do it for me or with me?’ So, I thought, ‘you know what? I’d do it for you and with you.’ I wanted to do it for him as his agent but also I want to do it with him – to train together, get fit together and to play together.”

At 28 years old, Razeen did feel somewhat out of place to trial for teams in Malaysia, especially since most teams had his former teammates during his youth career. While he did say he could still represent Shahir in Malaysia, he would only trial for clubs abroad together with his brother abroad.  The arduous task of applying for trials began and Razeen applied for clubs in Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. No offers came in at first.

Yet, it was this process that really connected Razeen to his future clients. He had to put together a highlight reel of his skills and send his resumes manually to clubs. These actions are altogether familiar for most footballers aiming to make a breakthrough overseas.

While attending one of his brother’s trials in Malaysia, Razeen was approached by a foreign agent who had brought his own foreign client for the trials as well.

“I was dressed up smart instead of sporty and this agent comes up to me and asks if I was an agent. I was taken aback and I asked him, why do you say that? He says, ‘you dress like one and you brought that boy with you. He’s good. Where is he from?’ When I told him that he’s my brother and was Malaysian, the agent was shocked. He couldn’t believe that we were Malaysians.”

Little did Razeen know that this agent was the iconic Mohamad Mroweh, an incredibly prominent agent in Malaysia (and would later become a close friend of Razeen’s). According to Mohamad, he was intrigued by both brothers because they were not your average Malaysians but he was particularly interested in Razeen’s younger brother. He believed that it would have been a waste for Razeen’s brother to ply his trade in Malaysia.

After getting acquainted with Mohamad, Shahir would train with a team full of out-of-contract foreign players looking for opportunities in Malaysia. Razeen would also join these sessions and it was only a matter of time before Mroweh had a serious discussion with Razeen – he firmly believed that Razeen had what it took to turn pro.

With this renewed sense of encouragement, the Khalid brothers would continue applying for teams overseas and it wasn’t long before he got an offer for a trial. The land of a thousand smiles beckoned and it began a new chapter in his career.

Thailand – Living Like A Football Mercenary

Thai Honda was the club that finally offered the brothers an opportunity to make their big break. While it was through another agent that they gained this opportunity, Mohamad Mroweh had given his blessings and encouragement to the brothers.

However, instead of being content with a simple one-week trial stint, Razeen believed it would be best for his brother and himself to maximize their time in Thailand fully. Thus, setting aside two months, they ventured to Thailand to train, keep fit, and seek out additional opportunities. One person instrumental in securing other trials was Mark Deery, an Irish sports lawyer cum agent based in Singapore.

“We managed to get accommodations at the Rajamangala Stadium and we prepared ourselves just like all the other pros who came to Malaysia or Singapore for trials. I was literally doing the same. This really helped me in what I do now by looking at how these agents were scouting players with potential and taking care of their clients to eventually preparing them for attending trials. I believe it has really helped set me apart from the rest of the other agents in Malaysia & this region because I have been in the players’ shoes abroad before unlike them.”

Alongside recently out of contract players and new foreign free agents, Razeen was part of a yearly tradition where players would train at the Rajamangala Stadium facilities compound to keep fit as they sought out new opportunities abroad.

“They didn’t see me as a Malaysian or as an outsider in that sense. These foreign players saw me as a fellow mercenary and we were sort of like a band of mercenaries. It was massive and we really helped each other out even though we were also competing for spaces.”

Razeen would first go for the trial with Thai Honda and during those trials, he would be invited to trial with Police United.

“The team was not ready. I think they did not know who the new head coach was and there were so many foreigners. So, before the coach arrived, they just made us run and run and run around the pitch. Mind you, this was the late 2000s. So, it was professional football but run rather amateurly back then.

“Then, they split the 50 or so of us trialists into four teams and we would have each team face one another until the coach arrived. It was two and a half to three hours of this until the coach arrived. And when he did arrive, he said a few words and then it was done.”

Clearly, Thai football has made strides in progress since the late 2000s, but Razeen and Shahir were not going to allow one bad trial experience to dash their hopes and dreams. A trial with Army United followed (and Singapore fans would fondly remember Hassan Sunny spending some of his best years with the Thai outfit). They braced themselves for a similarly poor trial experience. Once they reached the stadium, however, they were pleasantly surprised.

The club had only invited four trialists, of which two were Razeen and his brother. Indeed, more organized and better managed, the trial was a paradigm shift from the chaotic episode that ensued at Police. However, while no clear answer was given to the outcome of the trials with Police, Razeen was asked not to come for subsequent sessions after two days while Shahir was kept a while longer.

While his brother would remain at Army United, Thai Telecom (TOT) Sport Club would be Razeen’s next destination (as I mentioned, they stayed two months in Thailand) and the experience was even better than it was at Army.

“The facilities were very good – very similar to those in Malaysia. The stint at TOT would last five days which was much longer than Army or Police. After all, I knew what to expect now and I knew how to cope. At the end of the day though, the team was too tough to break into and as a result, I did not make the cut.”

Thai Airforce and Thai Port would be his next stops, as both clubs expressed interest in the 188cm player. After 3 weeks on trial at Thai Airforce, it was a successful spell as he was offered a contract to be directly loaned to Thai Port, one of the biggest clubs in Thailand at the time.

“I was drafted to be part of the squad for the Queen’s (Sirikit) Cup – a pre-season tournament they had back then pitting teams from Thailand, Vietnam and Korea. Thai Port was proper, and I mean a proper club. We had gym sessions, sessions in the pool and even yoga. That was the first time I was introduced to the idea of incorporating yoga into football or even a team sport.”

At Thai Port, he would meet Adebayo Gbadebo, who was technical director at the time. They would develop a strong relationship during Razeen’s time at the club. However, they would lose touch after Razeen left at the end of his trial.

Image Credits: Razeen Khalid

Ten years later, as an agent and team consultant, Razeen would bring Terengganu to Bangkok for a pre-season tournament and one of the matches would be against Suphanburi. Guess who the head coach was? That’s right. It was none other than Adebayo himself. Surprisingly, Adebayo remembered Razeen, and as they shook hands and hugged each other, all the Terengganu players looked on confused. Clearly, his time in Thailand has helped him establish a presence outside of Malaysia, but that was not the end of his football journey by any stretch.

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