Tesco chief executive Sir Terry Leahy is confident his protégé Phil Clarke will press on with the grocer’s US strategy when he succeeds him next March.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Leahy said: “I don’t think he will close Fresh & Easy. I think that business is going to be a big success.”

Clarke, however, has not given his unequivocal backing to the US chain, which is still making losses. He said: “I am not going to be drawn on what is going to happen when I am chief executive because I need the chance – as I’ve said to you before – to go and look.”

Clarke, who has not visited Fresh & Easy since early 2008, said he wanted the opportunity to “make up his own mind” after seeing the business “up close and personal”.

He added: “I look at the plans and the plans are persuasive. But… there is a big shift required if we are not to get to your doomsday scenario and a billion [pounds] of accumulated losses. Now, the plan doesn’t say that, so deliver the plan.”

Leahy’s original vision for Fresh & Easy was a chain of up to 10,000 convenience stores across the US. It has 168 to date after having had to pull back on expansion due to the recession.