Coles MD Ian McLeod moved to a senior role within the Wesfarmers Group this week - but a source close to the former Asda director and Halfords boss told The Grocer this was unlikely to prevent him being interested in a return to UK grocery.

“Ian has completed a very successful five-year turnaround in which profits have doubled and it has outperformed the industry consistently for four and a half years, adding four million customers,” said the source. “He is likely to be an attractive option for struggling UK retailers looking for a change at the top and somebody with a proven track record of successful turnarounds.”

The Grocer understands McLeod was on a shortlist of external candidates to replace Sainsbury’s boss Justin King, who is to stand down in July.

It was announced this week that having joined Australian supermarket chain Coles as MD in May 2008, McLeod would become Wesfarmers group commercial director in July, working with group MD Richard Goyder to “provide executive oversight on a number of strategic initiatives and internal Wesfarmers programmes”.

“I would like to thank every one of the 100,000 Coles team members for their dedication and commitment in support of the turnaround. Without them, any turnaround success would not have been possible,” said McLeod.

Australian analysts said the move was designed to keep McLeod out of the clutches of overseas rivals. However one source questioned how long-term the new position was likely to be.

Before moving to Australia, he had been CEO of Halfords since 2005. He served as chief executive of Celtic FC from 2001 to 2003, before which he was with Asda and Walmart Germany for 20 years.