His occasional off-field indiscretions and multiple injury setbacks ensured there were plenty of lows along the way.
But the Preston-born all-rounder was undoubtedly among the most popular England cricketers of recent years - and, as the tributes would suggest, Flintoff will be sorely missed.
ANDREW STRAUSS, England captain
"I would just like to say on behalf of the England team we would like to congratulate Andrew on an outstanding career. The impact he has had on English cricket has been immense.
"Of course, it is a sad day when somebody like that can no longer keep playing. But we would prefer today to celebrate everything he has achieved as an England cricketer.
Relive England's 2005 Ashes glory (UK only)
"2005 was his zenith. But he was always the ultimate impact cricketer, somebody who on so many occasions stepped up to the plate. He would put his body on the line on flat wickets when other bowlers were maybe starting to struggle.
"Because of the way he bowled, and what he put into it, it was probably not as easy for him to get seven-fors and eight-fors. But if you talked to other players around the world, they would always say Andrew was one of the bowlers they least wanted to face - because he could be so hostile.
"We are all striving to gain the respect of our peers. Andrew certainly did that."
STEVE HARMISON, former England team-mate and close friend
"It's a sad day for English cricket. People look for words to describe Andrew and coming from someone close to him in the dressing room he's been an inspirational character, not just for Lancashire, not just for England, but for children growing up and for his team-mates as well.
Flintoff feels 'dejected' - Harmison
"I spoke to Andrew this morning and he was dejected and disappointed about having to make the decision. I'm sure it'll be a relief off his shoulders and he can move on with the rest of his life.
"It's been very hard (for him to accept). He's a cricketer, that's all Andrew's ever wanted to be since he was nine, 10, 11 years old. It's taken him a year to make this decision, if not more.
"He tried his hardest to get back and when the surgeon said yesterday he couldn't get back it'll have been a long night for him, just knowing that he's not going to take the field again.
"It's sad for everybody - it's sad for everybody and it's devastating for Andrew - that they're not going to see this talisman for England, this inspirational cricketer, not just on international field but any field at all. It's devastating for me. What a wonderful career he's had."
MICHAEL VAUGHAN, former England captain
"It was expected and it's sad in a way, but I think it's now time to celebrate his career, what he brought to the team and what he brought to so many cricket supporters around the world.
"When he went out to bat at Lord's, you really had a sense that everyone would come out of the bars to watch him bat. Then he'd finish the day's play and probably end up going and having a drink with them in the bars.
"He was really the public's favourite. All the England crowd really took to 'Freddie' Flintoff because he was very much a homely person that everyone could kind of relate to.
Vaughan urges Flintoff to stay in cricket
"When you're in the job of England captain and you're managing Andrew Flintoff there's a few strains and headaches he gives you. But since retiring I've looked back on my career and I now realise how much he brought to me as a captain and to the team.
"There's no way we would have won in 2005 without Andrew Flintoff. In 2009 they would have had a chance but his spell at Lord's was a defining moment in the whole Ashes series. And the run-out of Ricky Ponting at The Oval...
"He just had that knack of delivering on the big stage and for a guy who didn't practice brilliantly - he wasn't the ultimate professional - when the pressure moments came, particularly against Australia, he knew how to stand up."
And here's what Vaughan had to say on Twitter:
"Freddie has called it a day. Great entertainment playing and captaining him. The man had the ability to clear the bars. Fred had an unbelievable ability to put six bottles of beer in his mouth at once, and down the lot. Quite incredible."
BRETT LEE, Australian fast bowler
"He always gave his heart and soul, the moments we have had on and off the field are what make Andrew Flintoff the wonderful person he is.
Andrew Flintoff consoles Brett Lee after the second Ashes test in 2005
"Probably one of the most special moments in my career was that 2005 Ashes series and certainly that epic battle that we had at Edgbaston.
"Even though we lost, I'd still put that down as one of my favourite games, purely the way it was played in and the sportsmanship that was on show.
"He's just a guy that has given his all, who's just been great for world cricket, and his sportsmanship is just second to none. He's an absolute beauty."
RICKY PONTING, Australia captain
"He seemed to always save his best for the big games - something I rate very highly in the assessment of how good a player is. This was certainly the case in games against us.
"He was a star of the 2005 Ashes series in England and his performance at Lord's in 2009 was one of the defining moments of that series."
Adam Gilchrist, former Australian vice-captain
"It's unfortunate. I read his comments where he said he's sad and disappointed to have to announce his retirement - that tells me that it's been cut a bit shorter than he would have liked.
"It made me think back to the day I retired from international cricket and that for me was almost a celebratory day, the feeling of reminiscing about your career and how fortunate you were.
"England owe him a lot because [in] 2005 where he just at all costs, was going to deliver those Ashes for his country.
"I don't think his body ever really recovered from that, the sustained pressure that he put on himself and endured. He made a great impact on the game - I wish him all the best."
JIM CUMBES, Lancashire chief executive
Lancs boss shocked by Flintoff retirement
"It's obviously sad news for Fred and for cricket in general. He has been a great servant to the game and has enjoyed a long-standing association with Lancashire County Cricket Club, which we hope will continue long into the future.
"His Herculean efforts for England in the two Ashes series in 2005 and 2009 will be cherished by cricket fans forever and we wish him well for the future."
HUGH MORRIS, England team managing director
He was one of the most naturally gifted cricketers ever to wear an England shirt
"Andrew Flintoff was one of the most naturally gifted cricketers ever to wear an England shirt and he will forever be associated with England's double Ashes triumphs in 2005 and 2009.
"Andrew always gave everything on the field and his will to win and hugely competitive spirit endeared him to millions of England cricket fans nationwide.
"On behalf of the England team and ECB, I would like to send him best wishes for his retirement and thanks for the enormous contribution he made to a successful England team."
ANGUS PORTER, Professional Cricketers' Association chief executive
"Freddie is a supremely talented and successful cricketer who will be remembered for the part he played in England's 2005 and 2009 Ashes victories.
"He is a larger than life character who has inspired a generation of young cricketers, and for that English cricket owes him a lot.
"The PCA also has cause to be grateful to Freddie for his generous support of the PCA Benevolent Fund - we wish him a happy and prosperous retirement."
South Africa captain Graeme Smith:
"I wish Fred all the best in his future! He was a great guy on and off the field and a great competitor. The game of cricket will miss him. Also hated facing him - quality bowler, especiay at left-handers like me."
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