Luca Cordero di Montezemolo was quoted by Ansa news agency as saying that he is “helping to bring about” a deal that “would be important for Italy”.
He added that Etihad, which has been expanding rapidly and also owns 29 percent of Air Berlin, is a “very strong group” and that it was “a pleasure to give a hand”.
The comments came a day after Etihad’s CEO, James Hogan, told a conference in the United Arab Emirates that the airline would make a decision over the deal “in the next two weeks”.
While convinced that Alitalia, which is in debt to the tune of €1.2 billion, can be returned to profitability, Hogan added that Etihad would also need to consider what deal could be achieved "under European legislation”.
German airline Lufthansa complained in February that the deal amounted to covert state aid.
Any deal would likely include conditions set by Etihad for the Italian carrier to clean up its finances and reduce labour costs.
Etihad also owns 40 percent of Air Seychelles, 19.9 percent of Virgin Australia and three percent of Aer Lingus. The company said in mid-November that it was acquiring 33.3 percent of the Swiss carrier, Darwin Airline, although that deal is awaiting regulatory approval.