Manuel ‘Tico-Tico’ Bucuane was no budding youngster when he first competing in the COSAFA Castle Cup in 1997, but it would be a tournament that brought him to the attention of the region and would spark a new career path that would eventually make him a legend of the Southern African game.
Tico-Tico played in a record nine COSAFA Castle Cup tournaments over an 11-year period that makes him one of the competition’s greats, even if he could never quite steer Mozambique to the coveted title.
He made 22 COSAFA Castle Cup appearances in all, netting nine goals in the process, and became one of the most feared strikers in the competition.
How did the COSAFA Castle Cup influence you as a player as you were already an established international when the first tournament was played in 1997?
There is no doubt it helped my career, it is a very important competition for our region. Most teams from this region struggle to play in the bigger competitions [African Nations Cup and World Cup], so the COSAFA Castle Cup … it is more realistic for us to try and win it.
Unfortunately for Mozambique, we never managed to lift the cup, but we have been to two finals and this time around I hope it is going to be the same, we will try our best.
The COSAFA Castle Cup is very important for the younger players because the coaches see the competition as a platform to gain experience and grow as a player.
As years go by the tournament is becoming more and more important and to win it would mean so much for the careers of the Mozambican players.
Mozambique national team coach Abel Xavier appears to have done well with the national side over the past year?
Yes, but he is also under pressure, he is a new coach and was in the last tournament, which was his first competition, so this time round he knows more of what to expect.
It is not an easy competition, he has to try new players, but also he must put up a team that can try and compete to see if he can do better than last year.
Do you feel like Mozambique football is on the rise?
The Mozambique federation has the right vision for the country’s football, they have brought in a coach who is ambitious, is very professional and is doing a good job.
I hope they give him time though because you know at the highest level it’s all about results, and when those don’t come, the coach has to go.
But I don’t think that is the case for us because I believe he is doing a good job, he is rebuilding the team with good, young players and the COSAFA Castle Cup is a tournament they can show that improvement.
Do you have a favourite COSAFA Castle Cup memory?
There are so many! The year we went to the first final in 2008, I was still at [South African club] Orlando Pirates, but they told me I was going to leave. So it was very important for me to prove myself as it was in the off-season, so I needed to market myself!
The team did well that year and we got to the final but lost to South Africa. The game before that against Botswana I was Man of the Match, so it helped me because I was also starting to doubt myself.
When a team tells you that they will not keep you, you start doubting your ability and I proved to myself in the COSAFA Castle Cup that I still had years to play in my career.
Finally, how did your passion for football evolve?
I guess growing up playing in the streets, it was our main thing to do. We just loved playing football, we had our heroes then and we wanted to be like them. For me it was the same, as early as I can remember I was playing with a ball.
By the time I was 10 or 11 I had something already because playing in the streets, against older boys, the competition was so fierce, you had to shape up fast.
So when I went to my first club I had the basics down, and the club then moulded me into the player I became.