Piece by piece, moan by moan, the whole, sorry edifice of the EFL Trophy in its modern form comes crumbling down.

You will remember that the lower-league cup has had Premier League teams foisted upon it since 2016. Giving important game time to under-21 players was the sell (a big sell, given the prize money introduced to get the scheme through).

A few encounters with ruffians from the lower-leagues would help prime the elite’s best young pros, and the English game would benefit greatly.

And what do we have here, nearly six years on? Managers in the top flight whinging that they don’t have enough players and that it’s enormously unfair to expect them to raise a team when Covid has sidelined a bunch of their household names.

Thomas Tuchel - whose Chelsea has a team in the last 16 of the Papa John's Trophy - was “disappointed and a bit angry” at being asked to fulfil a Premier League game against Wolves in December.

Now, nobody would argue that trying to keep a team in peak form with key men suddenly missing is easy such in a hyper-competitive top division.

At the same time, this summer Chelsea submitted a squad of 25 players to the Premier League, along with a list of 52 registered Under-21s who were also eligible over and above that initial roster.

Seventy-seven players - and it would still be preferable to get the game off than dip into the equivalent of seven different professional XIs in order to fill a team and bench.

Could someone therefore remind me: what is the point of the Trophy in its current form?

What was the point of the lower leagues having to swallow their pride and trade their principles back in 2016?

What has been the point of all the “men’s football” if, when vacancies arise, clubs with more young men than they know what to do with would sooner not play them?

Okay - Chelsea have, as normal, loaned out a glut of players this campaign. One imagines, though, the training ground is still not a barren wasteland where a few lonely souls dodge the tumbleweed. There should be a few people kicking about.

The same goes for other high-level individuals at clubs given to protesting that they simply haven’t enough bodies.

Er, yes you have. Bodies you’ve proactively and determinedly collected and kept in storage, on the off-chance one of them might turn out to be half-decent.

If the current Covid disruption does not offer the ideal chance to use at least some of them, then seriously: what are they there for?

And why, more pressingly at this level, do clubs like Carlisle continue having to watch their cup competition diluted, infiltrated, devalued and effectively sold off, if “development” of these elite kids does not have a clear and obvious point when their clubs are in most obvious need of, er, players?

United could claim £40,000 in prize money if they defeat Harrogate Town in the last 16 tonight. Further revenue awaits if they progress to Wembley.

But let us be crystal clear about this. The dream final, the contest that would best expose the glorious debacle of the modern, revamped Trophy, would be a club such as United against opponents such as Chelsea U21 or Arsenal U21, who happen to meet each other in a romantic third-round tie in what used to be the Associate Members’ Cup.

We could call it the Men’s Football Final, the Elite Development Trophy, the Stockpiling Shield; a petri-dish of a contest played out for pointless reason. Six years of wasted time.

Six years of principles being trampled on for money, six years of offending many grass-roots fans, six years of record low crowds, six years of telling us the game will be a better place for allowing the Under-21s in.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been had?