You can divide all soccer players — maybe all athletes — into two groups: the rational and the irrational. Rational players do what they look like they do. They look athletic, and they are athletic. They look balanced, and they are balanced. Ronaldo is a rational player; you could spot him on the beach and think, “Wow, dude looks like he was built to play soccer.” Irrational players come out of nowhere. They don’t instantly look like they’d excel at the sports they excel at, but somehow when they get out on the field/pitch/court, something weird clicks into place and it works. There’s nothing about Messi that says “athlete,” but put him on the pitch and magic just breaks out.
For whatever reason, the best soccer dichotomies usually involve a rational player alongside an irrational player. Pele, who was supremely rational, was always contrasted with Garrincha, who was supremely irrational, and then Maradona, who was 5-foot-5 and cobbled together like a bulldog. Cruyff was a skinny ballerina compared to the powerfully built Beckenbauer. Rational players are easy to admire, but irrational players are easy to love. They seem to need us more, somehow, and their games bring us closer to the miraculous. Not surprisingly, they tend to strike deeper connections with fans. By every measure, Pele was more important to soccer than Maradona, but ask hardcore soccer fans which star they prefer and Maradona wins every time.