RAFAEL BENITEZ might have spent more than £26m on three signings in the last week, but the Newcastle United boss insists he has not lost sight of the importance of bringing through players from the club’s academy.

Benitez cast his eye over some of Tyneside’s most promising young talent on Monday when he handed out the prizes at the inaugural Newcastle United Foundation 1892 Cup.

The Magpies have been criticised for their failure to produce home-grown players in the last decade or so, with a succession of managers bemoaning the lack of academy products capable of making a major impression on the first team.

The likes of Paul Dummett, Kevin Mbabu and Rolando Aarons featured in the senior ranks last season, with Adam Armstrong impressing on loan at Coventry City, but you have to go back to Andy Carroll to find the last Newcastle academy product to really flourish in the Premier League.

Benitez has made overhauling the Magpies’ training ground and youth set-up a key focus of his reign, and with transfer fees continuing to escalate, the Spaniard regards a successful academy as more important than ever.

“I think now it will be more important in every country to produce players for your academy,” said Benitez. “Now, if you go to the market to buy players, the prices are incredible.

“It’s really important to have a group of players coming through the academy because they will have a feel for the club and the city.

“When I was younger, in the past, you would have two or three foreigners in your team. You could use the money you had to buy the best foreign players and then have a lot of local players. We have to find this balance now.”

With Newcastle preparing for life in the Championship, Armstrong could emerge as an important player next season. The recent arrival of Dwight Gayle has provided the England Under-19 international with increased attacking competition, but Benitez is clearly prepared to give young players a chance.

The departure of Steven Taylor has robbed Newcastle of one of their few Geordie talents, and Benitez admits it is important for a team to have a local core that supporters can immediately relate to.

“I think it’s really important to have local players as the spine of your team,” he said. “But it’s not easy.

“When people criticise the academy, sometimes you don’t realise that another club has come in and paid money for them and taken them. That’s it. It’s quite difficult to bring players in through your academy.

“You don’t necessarily have to bring in one star, just one or two players for your squad every season is good. Maybe sometimes you get a Steven Gerrard, but it’s enough to have one or two players coming into the squad every year, which is what we want.”