A millionaire Italian footballer has stepped in to pay for a migrant girl’s school lunches after she was fed crackers and canned tuna because her parents could not afford meal vouchers.

Antonio Candreva, who plays for Inter Milan and Italy, phoned the mayor of Minerbe, near Verona, where the eight-year-old girl goes to school after hearing that she had burst into tears when served her snack as her friends tucked into a two-course meal, including pasta.

“I am proud of what my son did,” Candreva’s father, Marcello, told La Repubblica. “He has always been a sensitive person, and even more so since he became a father.”

Candreva intervened after the child’s plight was turned into a political football. Local councillors for the opposition Democratic Party claimed that the mayor, Andrea Girardi, was using school rules to “discriminate against a foreign girl whose parents can’t pay for lunch”.

Mr Girardi, a member of the anti-immigrant League party, said that the decision was made out of respect to those parents who paid for their children’s lunches, which cost €5.40 a day. Parents on low incomes get a 50 per cent discount.

“The new rules state that you can get two lunches without paying, after which the tuna option activates,” he said. “We are tired of being taken for a ride. Everyone makes sacrifices in this life. My father worked two jobs to support me and my family.”

The Democratic Party called the decision “discriminatory” and “inhuman”. “If there are families in difficulty the municipality should help them and not retaliate on a minor,” it added.

The mayor said that Candreva, 32, had offered to pay for lunch for the girl for a year, as well as for another 30 primary school pupils whose families were behind on the lunch payments, most of whom were migrants.

“He told me that he wants to pay for all the year’s meals for the child in question,” Mr Girardi said. “And not only that. He offered to take care of the other outstanding fees that we have.”

The footballer’s father said his son often visited sick children at paediatric hospitals and had supported people made homeless by the earthquake in L’Aquila, central Italy, in 2009.

In 2015, after backing a charity initiative supporting African children, Candreva said: “It is always important to help people in need, especially if they are children.”

Matteo Salvini, 46, the League leader and deputy prime minister, has been accused of stoking racist violence in Italy through his frequent reporting on Facebook of crimes committed by migrants. This week a mob of residents in Rome, egged on by the far-right group CasaPound and chanting “Italians First”, a slogan popularised by Mr Salvini, forced a gypsy family to flee from a council flat they had been given.