Brian Phillips:

Soccer is beautiful because soccer is hard. Most popular sports artificially enhance the human body. Soccer diminishes it. Instead of giving players a bat, a racket, protective armor, or padded gloves — tools that allow players to reach farther, return a ball faster, absorb harder hits, or hit harder themselves — soccer takes away players’ hands. It prohibits the use of the nimblest part of the body, and then it says, “Be nimble.” Moreover, because the action in soccer so seldom stops, because there are so few moments when play resets to a familiar starting point, soccer requires players to work within the limitations it imposes for much longer, and through many more situational complications, than other sports.

Clumsiness and confusion are thus inherent to the game, and this is soccer’s perverse genius, because what happens when you force people to move a ball around in a highly unnatural way is that they find a way to do it. Human ingenuity and talent manage to outwit the restrictions the game places on them. And when this happens at a high enough level — when a goal is scored after a breathtaking run, or when a series of one-touch passes makes it seem as though players are telepathically linked — then what results is beauty, because creativity and grace have momentarily overcome the forces that oppose them.

This is perfect. I might suggest that Brian’s description pairs nicely with the account of the offside rule, and the emergent complexity of on-pitch action, I give here.