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.
When Tico-Tico debuted in 1997 he was already 23 years old, and had made the move to Portuguese side Estrela da Amadora.
But he was battling to make the impact he would have liked in Europe and after an excellent display in the COSAFA Castle Cup, during which he netted four goals in as many games, he was lured to Jomo Cosmos in the South African Premier Soccer League (PSL).
He was an instant hit with Ezenkosi and would go on to net over 100 goals in the PSL in three spells at Cosmos, as well as SuperSport United, Orlando Pirates and Maritzburg United.
“I really enjoyed the COSAFA Castle Cup, especially in those early days when it really was a tough competition,” Tico-Tico says.
“It still is today, but back then there was a great generation of players and the football was of the highest calibre. We had some great games, big battles, and I know for a fact that it made Mozambican football better.
“We all really looked forward to playing in the competition and showed a lot of pride, even if we never quite managed to lift the trophy.”
Mozambique finished as runners-up in South Africa in 2015, a COSAFA Castle Cup tournament where Tico-Tico served as an ambassador.
They finished third in 1997 and 2004, on both occasions aided by the goals of their leading forward.
And they also appeared in the final in 2008, in what would be Tico-Tico’s final appearance in the COSAFA Castle Cup, where he failed to go out with a winners’ medal as Mozambique lost 2-1 to a South African President’s XI.
“It was a big disappointment, after more than 10 years of playing in the competition, I really wanted to win. But that’s football …,” he said.
He says he has no regrets about his time in the COSAFA Castle Cup and is optimistic about the future of Mozambique.
“There are some great players coming through and this should be an exciting time for us.”
There may well be another player to emerge to rival Tico-Tico’s numbers in the COSAFA Castle Cup, but whether they could match the loyalty and enthusiasm he showed as a player is unclear.
He will forever be not just a legend of Mozambican football, but also a shining light in the history of the COSAFA Castle Cup and another example of how the competition has put players on the path to greatness.