Bernard Mwalala: Africa's next managerial star?

Bernard Mwalala of Bandari FC takes a training session Dan Ngulu

When Costal Union's Bernard Mwalala picked up a hip injury in 2011 during a Tanzanian league game, he didn't know that what looked like a minor problem would end his playing career.

Then 28, Mwalala had just picked up the injury that would prematurely force the striker into the unchartered waters of management.

"I thought it was just a normal injury which would heal within a short period, but it turned out to be the one that would end my career," Mwalala told KweséESPN.

After numerous visits to hospital, he was advised to undergo surgery, which he declined, and ultimately decided to hang up his boots.

"I didn't see that coming," he continued. "I believed that it was a minor problem, when I was advised to undergo a hip replacement procedure I decided it was time to end my playing career."

Previously an explosive striker with excellent finishing instincts, Mwalala's 12-year playing career-which had included stints in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Malaysia and Oman - was over.

When he called time on his career, the Kenya international hadn't countenanced a future as a coach, and was still household name in Tanzanian football after winning two league titles in 2006 and 2007 with giants Young Africans S.C.

He decided that he wasn't done with football, and his injury ultimately ignited a spark that made him feel he had more to offer the sport.

Simultaneously, third-division Magomeni FC were in the hunt for a new manager, and club officials saw enough in the 28-year-old to give him a chance even though he hadn't yet picked up his coaching badges.

"I moved to Magomeni FC in Tanga and at the same time took my coaching badges," he continued, "but after five months, I left because the club was facing financial challenges."

After leaving Magomeni, coaching offers were hard to come by and the once deadly frontman remained jobless for seven months.

During this time he was busy beefing up his football knowledge which he hoped would help him truly kickstart his career in the dugout.

Ultimately, an opportunity arrived with second-tier Muweza FC, although this too proved to be a false start.

"I was out of coaching until February 2013 when I joined Muweza FC, who were competing in the second division.

"We narrowly missed out on promotion to the top flight and I left at the end of the season."

After another spell as assistant to compatriot Yusuf Chipo at Coastal Union in 2014, his career truly took off back at Nzoia Sugar FC in Kenya.

"Only two people in the club's management believed in me." he continued. "The rest thought I was very inexperienced.

"However, with the blessings of the chairman, I took up the job with the sole aim of getting back the team to the Kenyan Premier League."

In his first season as Nzoia boss, the Millers finished fifth in the National Super League (NSL) and the following season they returned to the Kenyan Premier League after finishing top in the NSL with 92 points from 38 games, nine ahead of second-placed Kariobangi Sharks.

"It's the biggest achievement of my career so far," he added proudly. "Nzoia are special to me, they made me proud to lead the team to the top tier."

Mwalala ultimately came to broader public attention at the start of the new campaign, when his new boys stunned defending champions Tusker 5-2 to kickstart their top-flight campaign.

Nzoia eventually finished a respectable ninth, and the coach's achievements piqued the interest of underachieving Bandari.

With little experience, he installed an attractive attacking style of play at the team together with a resolute disciplined defensive setup.

His personality of a ruthless mentality, boldness and confidence, an attitude hewn from the failures and disappointments of years past, was seen in his team.

The result was an excellent second-place finish, Bandari's best return in the KPL.

Mwalala's troubled rout to the top of the league has allowed him to learn from his mistakes and refine his method, with the coach extolling the virtues of meticulous planning to underpin his attacking philosophy and produce a winning mentality.

Taking to coaching and management at a young age has allowed Mwalala to relate to younger players and get the best out of them. Bandari had one of the youngest squads in the KPL this season, and the coach is proud of his work with inexperienced talents.

"If you are good enough you are old enough." he says. "Age is never an issue when recruiting players."

An expansive style of play and a dogged defence made Bandari a hard team to beat.

Under the tutelage of Mwalala, they conceded a league-low of 20 goals, and lost just six matches.

They also defeated eventual champions Gor Mahia, with Mwalala demonstrating - again - his ability to get one over on one of the league's heavyweights.

"I am still learning," he concluded. "I am not yet where I want to be.

"My goal is to keep improving as a coach. Whatever happens in future happens, but for now I will keep sharpening my skills."

Following his stints in Magomeni, Muweza, Coastal Union, Nzoia Sugar and now Bandari, Mwalala's career has grown in stature.

The injury that forced him to hang up his boots is now a distant memory, and the youngster is fast becoming one of Africa's coaches to watch.