Barnes's physical condition has been criticised by both his club manager, Graeme Souness, and Graham Taylor, the England manager, and he is to miss his country's missionary trip to the United States next month to work on regaining his old sharpness under the one-to-one direction of a specialist in such matters.
Taylor said before the Netherlands' 2-2 draw at Wembley last week that his old protege no longer had the zip to take him past two or three defenders, but that he could still have a lesser role to play, fetching and carrying on the left side of midfield.
It takes a lot to ruffle the Barnes pride, but that did it. He has never ceased to regard himself as a potential matchwinner, and is determined to prove that he still can be.
To that end, he is said to have risked his international future by declaring himself unavailable for the US Cup, in which England play the United States (Boston), Brazil (Washington) and Germany (Detroit) between 9 and 19 June. Barnes will travel for the World Cup ties away to Poland (29 May) and Norway (2 June), but will not be on the transatlantic flight for Boston on 5 June.
Bit-part player or not, it was the old enigma rather than the one new face who dominated the discussion yesterday, when Taylor named a 25-strong squad for the two World Cup games and the tub-thumping tournament to follow. Tim Flowers, Southampton's uncapped goalkeeper, was an interesting newcomer, even if he does owe his place to the hernia surgery which will keep Arsenal's David Seaman out of the US Cup.
The selection of the most improved keeper in the country went unremarked, though, amid all the talk of Barnes and his physical jerks.
Taylor said: 'I have had a long talk with John, and he feels he needs two or three weeks of conditioning work to get him ready for pre-season training. He has organised it himself, independent of Liverpool Football Club, and I agree that it will be beneficial to him, to Liverpool, and to England. He has been playing football to get fit when he should be fit to play football.'
Having reminded him of that responsibility, Taylor said he admired and respected Barnes's decision, but offered no assurances as to his long-term prospects.
'He is putting his place at risk, and gambling to the extent that this does give somebody else an opportunity to come in and do well, but I think it's a gamble he should take.' Some risk. Taylor, on his own admission, has been picking Barnes when he has not been properly fit. He is unlikely to leave him out when he is.
Chris Waddle apart - and the Footballer of the Year did not even make the stand-by replacements - the most notable absentee is probably Rangers' Trevor Steven, who has had rotten luck with injuries, and only has a place among the five reserves.
Paul Gascoigne had the stitches removed yesterday from the head wound he sustained in painful collision with Jan Wouters's elbow, and should be playing again in two weeks' time. Tony Dorigo, David Batty and Ian Wright return after recovering from the injuries which forced them to miss the draw with the Dutch.
ENGLAND SQUAD (World Cup qualifiers in Poland on 29 May and Norway on 2 June, and US Cup, 9-19 June): Woods (Sheffield Wednesday), Seaman (Arsenal), Martyn (Crystal Palace), Flowers (Southampton); Dixon (Arsenal), Bardsley (QPR), Dorigo (Leeds), Winterburn (Arsenal), Walker (Sampdoria), Keown (Arsenal), Adams (Arsenal), Pallister (Manchester Utd), Gascoigne (Lazio), Platt (Juventus), Batty (Leeds), Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday), Ince (Manchester Utd), Barnes (Liverpool), Merson (Arsenal), Sinton (QPR), Sharpe (Manchester Utd), Clough (Nottingham Forest), Wright (Arsenal), Ferdinand (QPR), Sheringham (Tottenham). Stand-by: Burrows (Liverpool), Barrett (Aston Villa), Steven (Rangers), Deane (Sheffield Utd), Warhurst (Sheffield Wednesday).