What you need to know:
- Vipers could play the Caf Champions League without Lwaliwa’s defensive cover – if his dreams come true.
Halid Lwaliwa is comfortably the most decorated player in Vipers 53-year history yet this composed and game-reading defender could be a free agent with his Vipers contract expiring in July.
The 25-year-old, who is expected to lift the StarTimes Uganda Cup trophy at St Mary’s Stadium today after Vipers’ game against Police – his fourth with the club – could go on to win his third Uganda Cup on June 12.
Lwaliwa started out as a lean St Mary’s SS Kitende graduate breaking into a star-studded Vipers team in mid-2014. In his first season, Vipers won the 2014/15 league title as he took turns with Musa Malunda, Edward Ssali, Shafik Bakaki and Yusuf Mukisa.
It was the first league triumph for the Venoms in five seasons and their second on the shelf.
“I’m a committed player and I feel severely hurt in any season we don’t win anything. That has happened in the 2019 and 2017 seasons,” Lwaliwa told Score.
He is on the cusp of wrapping up the club’s first ever league and cup double – the icing on the cake in his illustrious eight-year stay with the Venoms.
Lwaliwa has worked with several coaches; locals Edward Golola, George Nsimbe, Richard Wasswa, Abdallah Mubiru, Fred Kajoba, and Paul Kiwanuka, as well as foreigners Michael Ouma (Kenya), Miguel Da Costa (Portugal) Javier Martinez (Mexico) and now Oliveira.
They have all trusted with a starting role in the team, earning the armband in August 2019 when Tadeo Lwanga joined Egyptian side Tanta after the Afcon finals.
“It is down to the coach’s choice and your endeavour to work hard to fit into their system of play,” Lwaliwa says.
Coping with recurring injuries
At one moment, as Lwaliwa languished at CoRSU Comprehensive Rehabilitation Hospital in Kisubi undergoing knee surgery, doubting Thomases wrote him off.
To the naysayers, he was this glass-man defender prone to injuries and one who could not play 10 straight matches.
“I stayed strong during the seven months I spent recuperating and observed the doctors instructions well to get full recovery. Luckily, I got back into the starting team, the stiff competition notwithstanding,” he reminisces about the career-ending injury three years ago.
His affection for Vipers has enabled him fend off the allure of joining other big spenders in the country and says it is now to move on to the grand stage – a professional stint in Europe.
“With two months left on my contract, I’m a free agent. There have been approaches from local clubs but I gave Vipers the priority,” Lwaliwa said.
“I’m working with a Swedish agent to get a new team abroad and soon the big news will drop by.”
‘I will be missed but ...’
Vipers could play the Caf Champions League without Lwaliwa’s defensive cover – if his dreams come true. Yet he remains steadfast that the Venoms structure and Oliveira’s technical team have the knack to find his replacement.
“Vipers, in tandem with Kitende, produces many youngsters ready to break through the ranks. They may miss me in the beginning but, gradually, my absence will be dealt with like it has been with other star players,” he said.
“All I want is to be remembered by the fans and management for my whole-hearted contribution to the club.”
At St Mary’s, Lwaliwa built a telepathic understanding with partner Livingston Mulondo. He attributes this to the earlier interaction with Mulondo in the lower divisions and the ability to communicate in Lusoga, their mother tongue.
Other defenders in the queue to step up if Lwaliwa exits are Jacob Okao, Ahmed Amayo (both on loan) and Bashir Asiku.
Cementing Cranes stay
Lwaliwa’s national team chances widened when Express defender Murushid Juuko announced his early retirement late last year. Elements of competition however remained and he is mindful of that if he is to make Micho Sredojevic’s side that will take on Algeria on June 4 in Algiers in the opening game of the 2023 Nations Cup qualifiers.
“It (battle for slots) is a healthy one. You don’t grow without it, you have to prove your worth always and the team benefits. I can be Juuko’s replacement because nothing is impossible,” he said.
His fondest moment with the Cranes remains his debut against South Sudan at the St Mary’s Stadium when he scored the sole goal. For Vipers, winning the first league title in 2015, his most cherished memory with the club.
‘I had a dream to be a doctor’
We all have dreams and Lwaliwa envisaged life in the medical theatre as opposed to the football field. Abubaker Wandera, a former left winger at SC Villa feeder team Jogoo Young, did all he could to have his kid focus on education but football was Lwaliwa’s shadow and no one has ever successfully ran away from their shadow.
At A-level at St Mary’s SS Kitende, Lwaliwa pursued History, Art, Divinity and ICT and scored eight points in 2014.
“ I’m planning to apply for a course in Business Administration at Nkumba University because the degree dream is not lost on me,” he says.
‘It was tough getting him settled’
Spotted through the defunct President’s Secondary Schools Cup initiated by then Fufa president Lawrence Mulindwa, Lwaliwa took time to cope with life away from Iganga.
“He frequently ran back home from Kitende and it required Mulindwa (school proprietor) to settle his family issues to have him focus on his career,” Golola, who trained the defender at Kitende and gave him the Vipers debut, says.
To him, Lwaliwa ranks “way up there” with the best defenders Ugandan football has produced.
“I bet there is no striker who can beat him in one-on-one situation. He has speed and uses more of intelligence than physical attributes. He is a natural number five and still has loads of potential to exploit,” Golola said.
“Injuries aside, Lwaliwa should by now be playing in the paid ranks because that is where he belongs.”
The gaffer points out discipline and the desire to learn as the impetus to Lwaliwa’s steady rise.
“He makes me a proud man when I see Cranes coaches anchoring the defence around him and showing his leadership whenever given an opportunity. Of all Micho’s dilemma, defence is not part of them,” added Golola.
Kitende will drown in emotions and celebrations today, with Tony Mawejje’s swansong for Police and a trophy parade, but Lwaliwa’s muted good-byes might reign supreme.
Shs360m: Lwaliwa’s value
Joining another club is a complex issue Vipers will handle. You can’t let a valuable player like Lwaliwa, with a decade long investment in his growth, depart on a Bosman.
“Lwaliwa is by far one of the best defenders in East Africa and I wouldn’t advise him to join another club within. It is a pity that strikers are bought at a higher fee than defenders but Lwaliwa’s asking price is $100,000 (Shs360m),” Vipers co-director and former player Harunah Kyobe said.
At a glance
Name: Halid Lwaliwa
Born: August 22, 1996
Place of Birth: Iganga
Parents: Abubaker Wandera & Salama Wandera
National team Debut: 2020 (against South Sudan)
Education: Tawheed P/S, King of Kings SSS, St Mary’s SS Kitende
League titles: 2014/2015, 2017/2018, 2019/2020,
Uganda Cup: 2016, 2021
School titles: 3
4 East Africa schools trophies
2005-2006 Ahmed Mulajje
2006-2007 Farouk Wejjuli
2007-2011 Robert Kimuli
2011-2013 Joseph Mpande
2013-2018 Nicholas Wadada
2018 July - 2019 August Tadeo Lwanga
2019 August - Halid Lwaliwa