SO which is the real Moussa Sissoko? Is it the rampaging midfield talisman who was the best player on the pitch as France lost out to Portugal in the Euro 2016 final at the weekend, or the weak-willed mercenary who went missing on so many occasions for Newcastle United last season and who was all but invisible as the Magpies were relegated at Aston Villa?

Clearly, the 26-year-old has the capacity to be both, and when he is pondering what to do with his most valuable player ahead of the start of next season, Rafael Benitez needs to be mindful of Sissoko’s weaknesses as well as his strengths.

Earlier today, senior club sources were briefing that Newcastle had slapped a £35m price tag on Sissoko’s head in an attempt to detract potential suitors from following through on their initial interest.

That might well turn out to be a ruse to ensure the Magpies extract the maximum possible profit from a player who cost just £1.5m when he moved from Toulouse in 2013, but it also reflects a genuinely-held reluctance to let him go.

Having insisted he did not have to sell anyone against his wishes on the day he agreed to remain as Newcastle boss, Benitez addressed Sissoko’s position directly earlier this month when he claimed the Frenchman had a “responsibility” to help his employers regain their Premier League status in the wake of last season’s relegation.

That wasn’t just empty talk. Benitez made Sissoko his captain after dropping Jonjo Shelvey to the bench in the final month of last season, and clearly regards the midfielder as an integral part of his rebuilding process.

He sees him as a natural leader, capable of uniting a squad that was pulling in a number of different directions under Steve McClaren and inspiring the new arrivals who have been signed in the last few weeks.

Those close to Benitez also talk of the Newcastle boss regarding Sissoko as the ‘most naturally talented member of his squad’, and if he was able to come anywhere close to repeating Sunday’s performance in the Championship, he would run riot in the second tier.

He has produced that kind of display sporadically for the Magpies – mainly in the first 12 months of his Newcastle career – and just as the likes of Fabricio Coloccini and Jonas Gutierrez remained to propel the Magpies to promotion in the 2009-10 season, so Benitez clearly feels Sissoko could be the driving force behind another promotion push.

The Northern Echo:

But for all that Sunday’s performance provided a reminder of Sissoko’s qualities, it would be naïve to forget just how anonymous he was for much of last season.

He didn’t score his first goal until April, in a 3-0 win over Swansea, and spent much of the campaign wandering aimlessly as Newcastle’s opponents passed around him. His lack of end product became something of an embarrassment, and prior to Benitez’s arrival, it was hard to claim that he was constantly giving his all. Even under his present manager, there were far too many times when he went missing as Newcastle’s midfield dropped out of the game.

If his motivation was waning in the Premier League, what on earth would he be like playing in the Championship if he is forced to remain on Tyneside against his will?

The French media have already been linking him with possible moves to Juventus or Manchester United – the latter could well be dependent on whether another French midfielder, Paul Pogba, ends up at Old Trafford – and it is hard to imagine Sissoko meekly acquiescing if he is prevented from joining a club competing in the Champions League.

As last summer’s disastrous decision to retain Coloccini proves, it can be extremely counter-productive to keep a player who wants to be elsewhere. An unhappy Sissoko would be a damaging dressing-room presence, and Benitez is surely experienced enough to know that holding on to the Frenchman would be a huge test of his man management.

The Northern Echo:

He might well back himself to come through that, but having performed so impressively at the European Championships, Sissoko will no doubt feel this is the time to move on.

Speaking during Euro 2016, Sissoko said: “I want to leave, so I hope there will be no problem for me to find my happiness at another club.” You don’t get much more unequivocal than that.

It would be a dereliction of duty if Benitez and Lee Charnley were not to extract the maximum possible value from the midfielder, and yesterday’s £35m talk should be interpreted in that light.

With a contract to 2019 in their possession, the Newcastle hierarchy hold all the aces when it comes to any transfer talk. Ultimately, though, you have to know when to fold. Sissoko would be a liability in the Championship – selling him is the best way for the Magpies to move on.