As we all know, football is full of ifs and buts – but for Nottingham Forest, there are certainly a fair share of ‘what ifs’ when it comes to their transfer targets.

Forest, perhaps more than other clubs in the Championship, have had their fair share of signings over the last few years, but with a questionable success rate.

Obviously not every transfer is going to pan out, even with the correct scouting, but there are some players that Forest have missed out on that really do make you wonder how their fortunes would’ve changed had they landed them.

Here are six of them – all of whom could’ve taken Forest back to the Premier League, or indeed further…

Ivan Toney Forest
(Photo by Justin Setterfield/Getty Images)

Ivan Toney

Back in August, it seemed as if Forest would be rivalling East Midlands neighbours Derby County for Toney’s signature, with a £5m bid mooted.

In the end, nothing came of it and Brentford swooped for the former Peterborough United man, who have since got the absolute best out of him.

So far this season, Toney has 28 league goals and nine assists in just 36 games – an outstanding return and given that he is only 25, has a huge future ahead of him.

Given Forest’s issues in attack this season, they’ll very much be wondering what might have been and while it’s possible Toney could’ve flopped in the same way Ross McCormack did, it’s unlikely the Reds would be in a relegation scrap with him in their side.

James Justin Forest
(Photo by Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

James Justin

Back in the summer of 2017, Forest – then with Mark Warburton in charge – saw a £1m bid for Justin, then at Luton Town, knocked back, with the Hatters insisting he was going nowhere.

Justin then signed a new deal with the club and Forest’s interest seemed to cool – but two years later, Leicester City swooped to sign him in a deal that could rise to £8m.

Since then, Justin has been a mainstay in their side and has even courted England attention, with his performances on both defensive flanks wowing just about everyone.

Sadly for Justin, his season has been curtailed by injury and as such, won’t be in contention for the Euros – but aged just 23, he’s certain to be an England international in the future and Forest will be kicking themselves they didn’t give Luton an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Maguire Adams Forest
(Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

Harry Maguire and Che Adams

We go back to the summer of 2014 for this one as Forest, under the management of Stuart Pearce, missed out on two players who are now both regular starters in the Premier League.

Maguire is now the most expensive centre back of all time and is a mainstay in the England national side as well, while Adams cost Southampton £15m and at 24 is young enough to potentially force his way into England reckoning in the future.

Amazingly, Forest could’ve signed the pair of them, but in the long list of footballing atrocities committed by former owner Fawaz Al-Hasawi, chose not to as they weren’t huge names.

Despite his lack of enthusiasm, an attempt was made to sign Maguire – then at Sheffield United – but Al-Hasawi didn’t want to pay the £2.5m asking price, leaving the door open for Hull City to swoop.

Meanwhile, Al-Hasawi had no interest whatsoever in signing Adams, then at Ilkeston Town. Adams went to Sheffield United instead that summer, for a fraction of the money the Blades generated from selling Maguire.

“I looked recently at two players I took to the chairman as potential signings during my time at Forest – Che Adams and Harry Maguire,” Pearce said when speaking to The Athletic about the matter.

“One of those has gone for £15m and the other £80m. You look back at things like that with a rueful smile on your face. 

“Because people hadn’t heard of those two at the time, it was decided it was something they would not finance.

“We asked Sheffield United for a price on Maguire and I don’t think the two clubs could come to an agreement. 

“With Adams, you were talking about £20,000. Clubs like Forest should be mopping up young talent like that.”

It’s easy to look back in hindsight, but while Lewis Grabban has been a good signing for Forest, by the time they signed him they could’ve had an Adams that they’d nurtured with his best years still to come.

Meanwhile, at the heart of their defence, they could’ve had Maguire instead of Matt Mills, Michael Mancienne, Damien Perquis and Thomas Lam – all of whom combined still wouldn’t be as good a centre half as Maguire.

John McGinn
(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

John McGinn

Again back in 2017 with Warburton at the helm, Forest wanted to bolster their central midfield options and highlighted McGinn, then at Hibernian, as their man.

A £750k bid was lodged and subsequently rejected, with Hibs stating that Forest needed to come back with better if they wanted to sign him.

They didn’t come back with anything that could change Hibs’ mind and he stayed for another season, before Aston Villa signed him for £3m, as per the Birmingham Mail.

Since his move to Villa, McGinn was instrumental in getting them up from the Championship, keeping them up in the Premier League and now excels in advancing them in the top flight.

He has since courted a number of high profile admirers and Manchester United were told they would have to fork out £50m for his services if they wanted to follow up their interest.

Much like the Justin deal, Forest will look back on this with a shake of the head and wonder why they didn’t just allocate more funds to that transfer at the time – especially given the fortunes of how some of the players they signed with that money instead fared.

Gareth Bale Forest
(Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images)

Gareth Bale

The ultimate ‘what if’ for Forest fans however, lies with four-time Champions League winner Gareth Bale, who was very, very close to signing for the club back in 2009.

Forest needed a left back after being unable to further secure the services of Nicky Shorey on loan and had turned their attention to Bale, who was out of the Tottenham Hotspur side and available for transfer.

However, as he was set to depart, Benoit Assou-Ekotto – Spurs’ first choice left back – got injured, so Bale had to step in.

He took the opportunity with both hands, didn’t look back and then started to progress up the pitch, turning into a player that almost certainly would’ve won the Ballon d’Or had he not been in an era with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bale did eventually leave Spurs as we know, but to Real Madrid for £85m, where he won 13 major honours and scored 105 goals in 251 games; including three Champions League final goals, one of which – an overhead kick against Liverpool – is arguably the best goal to ever be scored in the competition.

Peter Crouch lifted the lid on just how close Bale came to joining Forest, which would’ve seen him leave on a fee significantly less than what Real Madrid paid.

“When I was at Southampton there was a buzz about two kids at the Academy — Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale,” Crouch said in his Daily Mail column.

“We heard all sorts of positive reports and I knew there was interest from Liverpool about signing Gareth in the summer of 2007.

“Our paths did not cross for another couple of years, until we were together at Tottenham.

“The young lad I saw initially had some confidence issues and had not enjoyed playing at left back.

“The talk was that he was going to go to Nottingham Forest for £2m. Then, though, he started to find his feet. He got faster, stronger.

“His confidence began to grow and gradually all those special things we had been told about when he was a kid started to come true.”

Had Forest signed him, it’s very likely they’d have needed to buy a left back again fairly quickly, but they’d have also had Gareth Bale in their side, which is a fair compromise.

Out of these six players, who would you have liked Nottingham Forest to have signed the most?

Have something to tell us about this article?