The English press is carrying mostly positive reviews of Newcastle United's newly published financials in the wake of last season's relegation nightmare. To sum up: not good, could've been worse. A lot worse.
If American sport has an owner as unpopular as Mike Ashley, it's hard to come up with a name. His on-the-job training has been tough on Newcastle United and its fans. Crediting him for surviving relegation is a bit like praising a ship captain for his lifeboat skills.
But as we take stock today of Newcastle's performance off the pitch, let's be realistic about how far Mike Ashley has come, and what he's up against.
In botanical terms, Newcastle United's pruning phase appears to be over. The overfeeding has ceased, the deadwood has been cast away, and the growing season lies ahead. Through it all - a lower-division season with a top-division payroll, the awkward and still mostly unexplained firing of a popular manager, the departure of the club's signature star, and a stunning run of injuries and marginally deserved disciplinary troubles - the club lies, albeit precariously, mid-table. For that you can believe in either Mike Ashley or miracles.
As an American fan I sometimes find myself wondering why anyone would want to own a Premier League club. American football teams enjoy roughly five times the television revenue, twice the attendance, and half the average player salary of their English counterparts. Payrolls are capped, revenue is distributed more evenly, and first-division status is secure. Granted, American football requires more players. Still, next to the Premier League, owning an NFL franchise is kindergarten.
So if we can't praise Mike Ashley for his performance, perhaps we can tip a hat to his presence. For whatever reason, he has taken on the next-to-impossible with this club in this league. And he may finally be warming to the task.