In the sentence "Al niño le gusta el fútbol." I am reading that the sentence should be translated as "The soccer pleases the boy". And the "a" in "a+el = al niño" is the personal "a" because "the boy" is the direct object. If I have that right, then what is the purpose of the "le" in front of le gusta? Isn't the "le" the indirect object meaning "to him"? Or a direct object? I get confused with the le/lo, I can't tell if it's a direct or indirect object. Thanks in advance for any help.
First, the verb 'gustar' is an intransitive verb and 'le'/'al niño' is the indirect object. You would also say 'a la niña le gusta el fútbol'. In many parts of Spain, people say *'a la niña la gusta' but that is regarded as incorrect grammar ('laísmo').
But then why the repetition of the indirect object? This is something that happens whenever we bring the direct or indirect object to the front of the sentence for emphasis. I'll give you a simpler example with a transitive verb. Consider the following sentence:
Vi al niño en el parque.
Here, 'al niño' is the direct object and we can replace it with the pronoun 'lo' (or, alternatively, 'le' in most of Spain):
Lo vi en el parque.
But now suppose you want to stress that it was the boy (not the girl or anyone else) who you saw in the park. You can bring 'al niño' to the front of the sentence to emphasise it, but in that case you must keep the pronoun:
Al niño lo vi en el parque.
While this is redundant from a logical point of view, Spanish grammar requires that pronoun.
Edit: let's now play the same game with your sentence:
El fútbol gusta al niño. (soccer pleases the boy = the boy likes soccer) El fútbol le gusta. (soccer pleases him = he likes it) Al niño el fútbol le gusta. = Al niño le gusta el fútbol. (the boy likes soccer)
The tricky thing about the verb 'gustar' is that we tend to use it with the indirect object upfront because of the semantics and saying 'al niño le gusta x' is definitely much more common than 'x gusta al niño' without any emphasis involved.
The problem for most of non Spanish speakers is this "a" that confuses most people learning Spanish.
When the object is a person it comes with this "a":
Veo **a mi hijo en el parque.
If you compare with most other languages this "a" does not exists:
I see my son in the park. (to my son = wrong!)
Je vois mon fils dans le parc. (à mon fils = wrong!)
This is one of the problems we spaniards have when learning other languages. Is very common hearing sentences like: "Please call to your boss a.s.a.p" (llama a tu jefe lo antes posible).
But if you speak about a non-person object there is no a:
Veo mi casa desde aquí.
Veo a mi casa desde aquí. Wrong!