Flintoff launched a remarkably ill-judged and incoherent tirade towards Atherton - now a Sky Sports pundit and cricket correspondent of The Times newspaper - while at a party and gave the reporter carte blanche to publish the quotes in full.
"He's a p***k. He's a f****** p****," Flintoff told the London Evening Standard. "He sits there making judgments about players that are much better than he ever was, believe me, he's a p****.
"How can he talk about a player like Alastair Cook, who is 10 times the player he ever was? He has a much bigger average and will go on and on. Atherton averaged in the 30s for England and yet he thinks he can judge others.
"There's no love lost there," added the 34-year-old, who had no qualms about revealing his feelings on Atherton to the Standard's reporter. "I don't care. Say what you like."
In 2006, Atherton wrote in the Telegraph: "The only positive benefit of the injury to Flintoff may be the end of his immediate captaincy ambitions. I don't subscribe to the view that England's underperformance against Sri Lanka was entirely down to Flintoff's captaincy but equally I have never subscribed to the view that he is the man for the job."
Flintoff singled out Atherton's views on Cook, whom he labelled a 'plodder and a donkey' before his elevation to the England one-day captaincy.
Former all-rounder Flintoff, now a fixture on the celebrity circuit, has been roundly criticised for his foul-mouthed rant; meanwhile, respected and multi award-winning analyst, broadcaster and writer Atherton has received widespread backing.
Atherton has not responded to Flintoff's comments, either in The Times newspaper or in his role as analyst and expert for Sky Sports, where he was present for the third one-day international between England and West Indies at Headingley.
We have canvassed opinion from cricket writers and journalists to provide a revealing insight into how the two individuals are regarded.
Paul Newman of the Daily Mail
"Flintoff, the people's champion but never as popular within the game, seems to have forgotten it is Atherton's job to assess England players. He also forgets that Atherton, who had to carry a poor England team before the days of central contracts, played at a time when bowling quality was much higher. It is a sad but predictable rant from a man who has few friends in cricket and is held in low regard by the majority in the game. England are better off without him, as most within the sport privately acknowledge ... there is no love lost between Flintoff and the bulk of people in cricket."
Nick Hoult of the Daily Telegraph
"Atherton opened the batting for England for more than a decade during a time when the depth of fast bowling talent was deeper than the current era. He averaged 37.69 from 115 Tests. Flintoff was a magnificent bowler for England at times during his career and was a key part of their 2005 Ashes winning side. But he managed only three five-wicket hauls for England, averaging 32 with the ball. Atherton has built a reputation as a respected commentator and broadcaster since retiring from international cricket in 2002, winning numerous awards for his writing ... Flintoff has cut his ties with cricket since injury forced his retirement in 2010. England have grown as a side since he retired from Test cricket at the end of the 2009 Ashes series, becoming the best Test team in the world, and Lancashire won the county championship outright for the first time in 77 years last season without the talismanic all-rounder."
Marc Padgett of The Independent
"Speaking at a party in London for Sky TV, for whom Atherton works as a commentator, Flintoff laid into his fellow former England captain. You would have thought that, as two Lancashire legends, they could be the best of buddies, but there is clearly no love lost between Andrew Flintoff and Michael Atherton."
Oliver Holt of the Daily Mirror (on Twitter)
"Funny what Flintoff said about Atherton because it's what most people I've talked to in cricket seem to think about Flintoff ... Loved watching Flintoff play cricket but as a bloke, I'd take Atherton every time. Top man + fine player who has become brilliant journalist."
Daniel Brigham of The Cricketer (on Twitter)
"Flintoff, with a Test batting avge of 31, attacks Atherton for only averaging in the 30s. Interesting logic that from TV's Andrew Flintoff."
Cow Corner's view, for what it is worth, is that having 'no love lost' for someone does not make it remotely acceptable for a public figure such as Flintoff to come out with a foul-mouthed rant.
The fact that Flintoff, who has cultivated his 'man of the people' image for many years, and for great financial reward, openly accepted that he was talking on the record in such a distasteful fashion makes it all the more reprehensible.
If an individual is happy to receive sponsorship deals, endorsements and huge deals for TV appearances and celebrity appearances then a trade-off has to be made in terms of how they talk and act in the public eye.
Equally, as a starting point, it is entirely illogical and unsustainable to insist that one has to be more talented or successful than another to pass judgement when being paid to offer an opinion in a sporting context.
Everyone will have their own view as to whether or not Flintoff is right to criticise Atherton as he has done, but the manner in which he expressed his opinion was entirely objectionable.
- Sports & Recreation